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Judy Gallagher

This humble fly could change the way we deal with food waste

Compelling discussion, commentary, stories on agriculture within thriving ecosystems.

Published as a WLE/IWMI Op-Ed in Globe Post

A black soldier fly buzzes over a pile of food waste salvaged from the leftovers of fruit and vegetable markets in Ghana’s bustling capital. As its name suggests, the fly and its counterparts are on a mission, albeit an unexpected one.

The Ento-Prise research project in Ghana is breeding these flies to reduce pressure on the country’s waste systems whose resources are becoming increasingly stretched by rapid population growth and urbanization.

These problems, however, are not unique to Ghana and are straining infrastructure and food systems all over the world. In perhaps an unlikely move, researchers and industry are turning to the humble fly as a potential solution.

How Do Flies Fight Waste?

Farmers and entrepreneurs can feed flies with organic waste, harvest the larvae, and then use or sell their biomass as livestock feed. This can generate new income by creating a feedstock that can replace soy or fishmeal, which have contributed to deforestation and overfishing.

Black soldier flies can consume most types of organic waste and gain up to 5000 times their body weight in just two weeks. The larvae are high in calcium and other minerals as well as vitamins, making them nutritionally rich and a promising feedstock alternative for many animals, including chickens, pigs, and fish.

The flies’ colonies can produce 100 percent more protein per year than chicken, soybeans, or cattle, on the same amount of land, which can also easily be converted into a nutty, protein powder. Meanwhile, they can also make a source for biodiesel, an organic fuel produced from fats accumulated by the larvae.

Large black soldier fly farms are popping up in Canada, the United Kingdom, China, and elsewhere, where this wonder fly is being heralded as a biological solution by alleviating waste and replacing resource-intensive feed, food, and fuel options.

The black soldier fly is said to “leapfrog” the entire waste management value chain, feeding on waste that can then almost immediately be harvested into a protein. Typically, this process would be much more complicated when waste derived compost is needed to grow crops to feed livestock for protein.

Wealth from Waste

When roughly one-third of food is wasted every year, preventing any more from entering landfills and emitting greenhouse gases is essential. Enterra Feed, an insect farming business from Canada valued at over $100 million, has already found success in the U.S. feed market with its fly-based protein alternative.

“Wealth from waste” business models that reuse wastewater, kitchen waste, and more, are gaining traction around the world. They show potential to reduce waste volume while recovering waste management costs or even making a profit, all while tackling mounting waste challenges. These flies could be the next big opportunity in waste management.

Perhaps one of the most interesting elements of the black soldier fly business is that while many start-ups exist at both a household and large-scale industrial level, the presence of medium-scale facilities is minimal.

One of the reasons behind this is that legislation often limits either the waste materials allowed in insect production or the type of protein that a fish or poultry farm can consume, deterring business start-ups. However, where these obstacles were addressed, production can peak to process up to between 100 and 250 tons of organic waste daily.

Local regulations can also create an enabling environment to export the feed elsewhere, encouraging the proliferation of these farms. If businesses with a sound understanding of the technology can find the right levels of finance in the right regulatory environment, black soldier fly farming can grow quickly and be hugely valuable for people, economies, and the environment.

This wonder bug can be farmed almost anywhere in the world, consuming almost anything. It is about time that we see these creatures as less of a nuisance to be avoided, and more of a “super-fly” with the ability to help us solve global food and energy problems at once.