Rotten bananas? Mushy avocados? Pulped oranges? Talash Huijbers wants them all.
The 25-year-old is the founder of Insectipro, a Kenyan farm rearing black soldier fly larvae for animal feed. In the 10 days it takes for them to grow, the larvae need to be fed too - and fruit waste from factories and food markets in the capital Nairobi is just the thing.
“We take all the green waste in Nairobi and we turn it into something of high value, animal protein,” said Huijbers at their farm in Limuru, 28 kilometers (17 miles) from Nairobi. “From waste to gold.”
Every day, the farm processes around 20 to 30 tonnes per day of fruit waste and produces 2 and 2.5 tonnes of larvae, which are then dried and turned into animal feed. Any remaining waste is used as manure, some of it on the farm, and the rest is sold to farmers in neighbouring farms.
The firm is the biggest in a wave of investment into larvae farming, seen as a lucrative and environmentally friendly way to dispose of organic waste and generate animal feed as concern rises over environmental pollution and sustainable eating.
“The end product of the waste goes to produce crops. And then the larvae that you get goes in to feed our livestock,” said Chrysantus Mbi Tanga, a research scientist at the Nairobi-based International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE).
The institute has trained 2,000 black soldier fly farmers in Kenya in the past year and a half, but almost all are small operations. Insectipro, which began with an investment of $850,000 two years ago, is the biggest. They will have their first profit before the end of the year, Huijbers said.
The company says it can’t keep up with orders and hopes to double or triple production by the end of the year when it gets a bigger dryer.
Now Insectipro is researching the production of chitin, a byproduct of the black soldier fly’s pupa as it turns into an adult. The pharmaceutical industry uses it in compounds for dressing wounds.
“The anti-microbial properties, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial properties, when you put them in wounds, it helps to eliminate these bacteria that are causing decay,” Tanga said.