fly farms
Fly larvae (or maggots, as they are so affectionately called) are considered some of the most disgusting forms of life on the planet today. Nevertheless, they are instrumental for fish and animal life, and are therefore important to all humans, in some way. Or at least, that’s the theory behind AgriProtein, a startup business based in Stellenbosch, South Africa that’s looking to create protein feed from an army of maggots.

The start up recently began building the world’s largest commercial fly farm near Cape Town this week, and the project will house over 8.5 billion flies in the coming years to produce dozens of metric tons of protein meal, oils and fertilizer. The business capitalizes on one of nature’s most economical bottom feeders, and hopes the venture will lead to a more sustainable system of protein production and waste recycling.

But how does the business “harvest” the money maggots? The business extracts protein feed, extruded oil and fertilizer from the engorged larvae in a process (and industry) they call nutrient recycling. The idea is simple: you gather a large group of flies, collect their eggs (leaving three to four percent of the eggs to hatch to maintain the population of the flies), put them in a pile, and let them eat to their hearts’ (or whatever organ they use) content.

The startup feeds fly larvae unwanted waste from animal byproducts, food scraps and manure (basically anything you can think of that’s absolutely revolting and useless) to produce metric tons of wet, engorged larvae—insects the business can use to produce a variety of nutrient stuffs. Jason Drew, a member of the startup’s executive team, says AgriProtein plans to convert 110 metric tons of waste per day to 17 metric tons of larvae by October 2014. “It’s about cleaning up waste locally and making the food chain sustainable,” Drew Said.

This past May, the business “broke ground” on its first industrial scale factory and was even awarded the $100,000 Innovation Prize for Africa, a prize sponsored by the United Nations and the African Innovation Foundation. The award continues a recent stretch of international partnerships as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the German government and the University of Stellenbosch, a premier South African research institution, partnered with the budding startup.

Currently, AgriProtein has received much of its startup capital from international donors, and has attracted the interest of 43 different countries. Drew remains optimistic that the business will see tremendous success in the coming years, and cites returns of over 20% on initial investments.

With plans to build 38 fly farms, AgriProtein has ambitious goals to revolutionize global agriculture. Although the start-up is in its nascence, its inventive approach to the waste-loving insects shows promise for South Africa and the world over. It has the potential to provide animal feed at a lower cost (thereby increasing the ability of farmers worldwide to increase food production and reduce food insecurity) and offer a more sustainable replacement for traditional animal feed that can reduce global waste.

– Joseph McAdams

Sources: Agriprotein 1, Agriprotein 2, RawStory, The Guardian, Pub, Bloomberg