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AgriProtein

Lord of the Flies

A farmer in South Africa uses maggots to reduce organic waste, repair depleted soils and help feed the world

by Kimon de Greef for Sparknews

In his former life there was little to suggest that Jason Drew would become a pioneering eco-capitalist and the world’s biggest farmer of flies.

For years the UK-born entrepreneur ran a string of profitable companies in sectors ranging from IT to finance, all the while considering environmentalists an impediment to economic growth. “They stood in the way of development,” he said.

But after suffering two heart attacks and spending months recovering on his family farm outside Cape Town, watching the seasons shift, Drew, who is now 52, began changing his mind. “I got back in touch with myself and with nature,” he said. Soon he came to believe that business could be geared towards fixing some of earth’s most pressing environmental problems.

AgriProtein, his animal feeds manufacturing firm that upcycles organic waste into high-quality protein using fly larvae, indicates that his hunch was correct.

The company, founded in Cape Town in 2008, breeds billions of black soldier flies—a docile species with large eyes and forked antennae—and feeds their grubs industrial volumes of food waste from the city’s crowded landfill sites. The grubs are voracious, increasing their weight more than 5,000 times within three weeks. Once they pupate they are processed into food pellets (branded MagMeal™) and omega oils (MagOil™) for rearing livestock or fish, leaving behind a rich compost (MagSoil™).

This process diverts waste from landfill, eases pressure on farmland and fish stocks used for producing animal feed, and feeds nutrients back into depleted soils—all the while turning a profit.

“The degradation of our planet has reached the point where it has become very profitable to go out and fix the problem,” AgriProtein states on its website. The company’s value rose to US$117 million last November after it raised $17.5 million in capital for funding expansion into Europe, North and South America, and Asia.

In 2016 the company partnered with international engineering group Christof Industries to roll out factories according to blueprints tested in Cape Town, with targets of establishing 100 units globally by 2024 and a further 100 by 2027.

Each factory will employ around 60 people and house approximately 8.5 billion flies—more than the number of people currently living on earth. The factories will each take in nearly 250 tonnes of organic waste per day, equal to what the grubs can process, to produce 5,000 tonnes of pellets and 2,000 tonnes of oil each year.

“We’re on track to have some good impacts,” said Drew, “but we’re barely scratching the surface.”

The problems AgriProtein has set out to solve are daunting, to say the least. By 2050, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), global food production will need to increase by 70 percent to feed an estimated population of more than 9 billion, placing extra pressure on planetary systems already strained close to their limit.

The FAO estimates that at present rates of degradation the world has enough topsoil for just 60 more years of intensive agriculture. A third of all cropland, including around 85 percent of all soybean production, currently goes towards feeding livestock and farmed fish, with global consumption of animal protein rising sharply, particularly in developing countries.

Manufacturing animal feed also depletes fish stocks, with demand for fishmeal projected to exceed supply within the next decade.

Drew, in a 2011 book co-authored with writer David Lorimer, referred to this phenomenon as “the protein crunch.”

“Each factory of ours will allow at least 10,000 tonnes of fish to remain in the sea each year,” he said. “One of my goals is to reduce, and in time eliminate, the need for fishmeal.”

Assisting Drew in this quest is the fact that his products are cheaper to produce than conventional animal feeds—undercutting fishmeal prices, for instance, by more than 15 percent. Yet a major obstacle, which Drew readily acknowledges, remains producing larvae at sufficient scale.

Global animal feed production exceeded 1 billion tonnes annually in 2016 (and generates an annual turnover of more than $400 billion), consuming more than 15 million tonnes of fish along with far greater volumes of maize, soybean and other products.

That’s 1,500 times more fish than each AgriProtein factory will be able to offset.

South Africa, the largest animal feed producer on the continent, alone manufactures more than 11 million tonnes of feed each year, including up to 98,000 tonnes of fishmeal.

“It comes down to economies of scale,” said Peter Britz, a fisheries and aquaculture professor at Rhodes University in South Africa. “Fishmeal is an excellent protein source and produced on the order of thousands of tonnes. Fish from a single trawler trip can produce more than 1,500 tonnes of the stuff. But we can’t harvest more fish than we currently are—there’s a serious need for alternatives.”

This is the sort of challenge that Drew relishes. “People thought we were mad to even attempt this,” he said. “But the old way of doing business is over. The industrial revolution is being replaced by the sustainability revolution. We’re getting busy repairing the future.”

https://agriprotein.com/

 

MORE FLIES

AgriProtein is a pioneer in turning black soldier flies to animal feed, but there are other companies doing similar things, such as:

  • Enterrafeed (Canada)
  • Entocycle (UK)
  • Enviroflight (USA)
  • JM Green (China)
  • Protix (Netherlands)
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