Good news on the maggot front!

One of the most fascinating contributions to our Innovation Showcase was a little company called AgriProtein. Its business model is splendidly simple: get your hands on a steady supply of organic waste (municipal garbage, rotting food waste or whatever); bring in billions of flies (blow-flies, common house flies etc) to feed off it; let them breed, and then harvest the tonnes of larvae that result; dry them out, and process them into animal feed. Then sell it into the market as an alternative to fishmeal and other sources of protein, at a lower cost.

AgriProtein demonstrated the viability of this process some years ago, but struggled to find the necessary investment. Having now raised more than $10 million, work on what will be the world’s largest fly-farm has started in South Africa. It will process more than a hundred tonnes of organic waste every day, will house about 8.5 billion flies, producing around 23 tonnes of larvae a day, as well as 50 tonnes of organic fertiliser. All being well, the ‘maggot meal’ will sell at around $1,400 a tonne – as compared to $2,000 for fishmeal.

If all this talk of rotting food waste, flies and maggots has succeeded in triggering your own particular yeucch factor, then take comfort in the significant contribution that insect-based alternatives of this kind will be making to the overall animal feeds market in a few years’ time. And that matters on two counts:

• First, as we know, competition for land is hotting up all the time – they’re just not making the stuff any more! Hectare for hectare, for every tonne of
soybean protein it should be possible to get 150 tonnes of maggot meal.

• Second, demand for animal feeds is increasing every year, marching in lock-step with increases in meat consumption, particularly in developing and emerging countries.

The Drew brothers, two of the co-founders of AgriProtein, and take great heart from the fact that both the financial barriers and some of the regulatory hurdles are now being lifted – the EU, for example, is examining its rules on the use of insects in poultry and pig feed. What’s more, a proper, competitive market is beginning to develop (with a number of players in both the EU and the USA), with another 38 projects planned or rolling out around the world.

So keep your eye on those maggots! It makes not a jot of difference to the animals that are being fed on it; but it makes a hell of a difference from a waste, energy, water and land use perspective.