The fly farm providing sustainable animal feed

Stefano Pozzebon
Journalist, Business Insider.
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The world’s largest fly farm is about to open in South Africa as part of an initiative to produce sustainable feed for chicken and fish.

Industrial farmed chicken and fish eat fish meal, which is bad for the environment because it depletes already fragile fish resources. To create 1 kilogram of high-protein fish meal, for example, it takes 4.5 kilogrammes of smaller pelagic fish such as anchovies and sardines, according to Time Magazine.

The cost of fish meal is also rising with increased demand for fish. Fish meal sold for less than $500 (£325 ) a tonne in the early 2000s, but last year it peaked at $2,400 (£1,562) a tonne, according to Bloomberg.

But AgriProtein, a South African farming company, has a solution. AgriProtein produces MagMeal — animal feed that is made from fly larvae that feeds on waste. The benefit of MagMeal is two-fold: It offers a sustainable, natural source of protein for farmed animals (there’s no shortage of flies), and at the same time, helps to eliminate garbage.

In 2012, AgriProtein received funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support its insect-based protein product and the company’s commitment to waste solutions.

“It is not different from what already happens in nature,” Jason Drew, the founder and director of AgriProtein told Business Insider UK. “The anomaly is what we do now — 30% of the fish we take is not consumed by humans, but rather fed to fishes or chickens. I mean, if a chicken was meant to eat fish it would be called a seagull.”

AgriProtein, founded in 2009, started building its first industrial-scale factory in May 2014. The plant, which can house more than 8 billion flies and produce 22 tons of larvae every day, is set to open next month, according to Drew.

How it works

Common flies are harvested with organic waste, such as food leftovers from supermarkets and restaurants and remains from slaughterhouses. The flies lay their eggs in the waste, and these eggs rapidly turn into larvae, eating the waste as they grow. The BBC calculated that one kilogram of eggs becomes 380 kilogrammes of larvae in just three days.

After a few days, before they become flies, the larvae are collected, washed, and pressurised into MagMeal, which can be delivered to chicken barns and fish farms.

Opening a new fly farm costs about £5.2 million ($8 million), but the investment would be amortised very quickly since the operational costs are low. AgriProtein already has an agreement with Cape Town’s waste disposal agency, helping them to sort out what to do with the garbage of a city of four million.

AgriProtein raised £7.15 million ($11 million) from private backers like Twynam and s.Oliver to help build its latest commercial farm.

The future of the food industry

A native Yorkshireman, Drew moved to South Africa in 2003. Five years later, he quit his job as manager to dedicate his career to the environment.

Now, Drew calls himself an “environmental capitalist.”

“The industrial revolution is over, and the sustainability revolution has begun,” Drew says. “During the industrial revolution you either were environmentalist or a capitalist, and you couldn’t be both. But I am a capitalist and an environmentalist the same time.”

He adds: “I am in the business to make millions, but I want to defend the environment. The sustainability revolution can be both: the environmentalists needs to understand that they must follow the market, or otherwise they will fail, and the markets need to understand that if you are a businessman who doesn’t understand the environment you will fail.”

Drew has written two books with one more, “The Environmental Capitalist,” set to arrive in April. Drew also spoke about his flies at TEDx and Creative Innovation.

Drew’s aim is to feed a growing world population without further depleting the planet’s natural resources. Every day, the world populations grows by 200,000. To meet this growth, combined with an increase demand for protein from the developing world, the world’s annual production of meat will have to increase to 376 million tonnes by 2030, according to the World Health Organization. Fifteen years ago, it was little more than 200 million tonnes.

Although AgriProtein has approval in South Africa, it is still banned in Europe due to a regulation introduced during the mad cow disease epidemic that prohibits the feeding of livestock with processed meat. MagMeal falls into this category.

The new farm, located about 120 kilometres north of Cape Town, will be joined by another South African facility later this year.

“We are in talks to license our technology abroad,” Drew says. “We want to bring fly farming to the US, Latin America, Asia, and Australia. In 15 years, we could have 40 to 45 of these farms worldwide.”

This article is published in collaboration with Business Insider. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Stefano Pozzebon covers energy and the UK market for Business Insider.

Image: A worker holds up fly larvae waiting to be harvested at the AgriProtein project farm near Cape Town. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

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