Special Reports

Poultry farmers cut costs with black soldier flies

Black Soldier Fly

The black soldier fly at the production farm at Kerema, Nyamira on September 15, 2021. PHOTO | ONDARI OGEGA | NMG

For years, the cost of commercial feeds has made poultry farming erratic and less profitable. But farmers in Nyamira are shifting to more sustainable sources of protein for their chicken, slashing feed costs substantially, and ensuring their chunkier poultry fetches better prices.

They are converting organic waste, picked from food markets, into fast-growing, protein-rich larvae of black soldier flies, which are happily eaten by the chicken. The larvae contain 35 to 45 percent of protein, which is crucial in the growth of the birds.

The Edge paid a visit to an insect-breeding farm in Kemera, Nyamira where farmers rearing 3,000 broilers for sale were learning the production of black soldier flies, with the help of experts from Powerhive, a company connecting electricity to rural areas and a runs a poultry processing plant in Kisii.

A structure that measures about 20 by 40 metres is full of stacks of black crates. Adjacent to the crates is four cages covered with transparent polythene papers. In these cages, wasp-like insects can be seen. They are the black soldier flies.

Annah Mong’ina, 53, was using the structure for poultry rearing but the high cost of feeds edged her out of business. She opted to lease it to the farmers. The production of black soldier flies is simple, that any farmer can do it with basic training, says Abigael Kitheka from Powerhive.

The eggs are placed in tent-like structures together with organic waste where they incubate for three days and then hatch. These organic wastes may include potato peels, kitchen waste, over-ripe avocados, tomatoes, or mangoes.

The farmers collect the waste from nearby food markets. After the eggs hatch, they form larvae, which begin to feed on the waste. Seven days later, the larvae have grown enough and are ready for harvesting. All the larvae except 20 percent are harvested into feed. The remaining black soldier flies perpetuate the colony.

Within 10 days, the larvae pass to the pupae stage before becoming flies. The flies live for about five days on a diet of water only, and during that time they lay the eggs that begin the process again. They are only alive six weeks but during that time, they reproduce generously, laying 500-plus eggs in a single batch.

During harvesting, the larvae is washed and fed on chicken either alive or dried. Ms Kitheka says she prefers drying it because it reduces the chances of infections in the flock. Drying the flies involves putting them first in hot water before heating.

Ms Kitheka refers to them as brown live gold. The waste from the flies is used to make composite manure that another expert Jared Nyangaresi says can be used in farms for increased crop productivity.

He notes that apart from feeding the larvae on broiler chicken, they can also be a good meal for pigs and fish.

Insect protein is a good way to go. Before they started feeding the chicken the larvae, the farmers would spend Sh672,480 to rear 3,000 broilers to maturity. Now the cost of production has reduced by Sh201,704.

Taking waste and turning it into a high-value product while avoiding the use of chemicals, Mr Nyangaresi says, contributes to global sustainability and climate-smart agriculture.

“The larvae as feed supplements can improve the income of smallholder farmers,” he says. Some of the gains the farmers say they have seen is faster weight gain in the chicken, translating to an increase in earnings by 20 percent. For broiler chicken to be ready for market, they take up to six weeks when fed on commercial feeds. However, when they are fed on larvae, they reach maturity within four weeks and attain more weight compared to those fed on commercial feeds only.

Chicken fed on the larvae weigh around five kilos on maturity compared to those reared on commercial feeds that weigh 3.5 kilos on average, the experts said.

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