Business Insider Edition

More South African animal feed and pet food now contain insect larvae - thanks in part to Bill Gates

James de Villiers , Business Insider SA
 Apr 16, 2019, 01:06 PM
AgriProtein founder and CEO Jason Drew (supplied)
AgriProtein founder and CEO Jason Drew (supplied)
  • A number of South African pet food and animal feed products now contain insect larvae - a protein source produced by a Cape Town-based company.
  • AgriProtein processes up to 40 tonnes of food waste per day, and then gets black soldier flies to feed on the waste.
  • AgriProtein is building an additional five factories in 2019 - the aim is to have 100 by 2024.
  • Visit Business Insider South Africa for more stories.

Insect larvae are becoming an increasingly important source of protein in South African animal feed and pet food products.

Cape Town-based AgriProtein has been producing insect material to add to these foods for more than a decade, and are now processing 40 tonnes of food waste per day for the larvae, says its CEO Jason Drew.

The food waste - which is secured from restaurants and retailers - was destined for public landfill sites.

Organic waste being delivered at the Philippi fact
Organic waste being delivered at the Philippi factory (supplied)
The black soldier flies larvae inside the factory
The black soldier flies larvae inside the factory (supplied)

AgriProtein uses larvae from black soldier flies. The flies feed on a substance made from the organic waste sourced from local restaurants, factories and farms. 

Also read: Everything you need to know about 'cockroach milk' — the protein-packed superfood that some can’t wait to get their hands on

Once their eggs reach their optimal size, the larvae are processed into feed for animals and a fertiliser for organic soil.

Drew says that by using food that was destined for landfills, the company is helping to reduce the 1.3 billion tonnes of food that is wasted worldwide every year. The larvae can also help to substitute fishmeal. Much of the fishmeal used in South Africa still comes from sea-caught fish, which is contributing to the continued decline of fish stocks globally, Drew explained.

The facilities at AgriProtein's Philippi factory w
The facilities at AgriProtein's Philippi factory where the black soldier flies are allowed to mate (supplied)
Black soldier flies mating (supplied)
Black soldier flies mating (supplied)

“What is most appealing about what we do is the fact that Mother Nature has been doing it for over 240 million years,” Drew told Business Insider South Africa.

“By mimicking nature, we are providing a cost-effective and more sustainable protein alternative that reduces the environmental costs associated with existing protein production systems and landfill use.”

AgriProtein was founded in 2008 in a tractor shed in Cape Town by Drew, shortly after he retired as CEO of Dialogue, one of the largest call centre groups in South Africa. A keen environmentalist, he started to explore "green" food sources in retirement.

In 2010, he partnered with the University of Stellenbosch and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to open a pilot facility, and in 2014 they opened the first commercial-scale factory in Philippi, Cape Town.

Also read: We blind-tasted ice-cream made from insect milk – and couldn’t believe the taste

AgriProtein today employs over 160 people, including a dedicated research and development team.

Drew believes that public perception will increasingly accept using insects as a source of protein as the unsustainability of the current food systems is documented.

AgriProtein's final product (supplied)
AgriProtein's final product (supplied)

AgriProtein plans to build five new factories in 2019 with an output of 15 tonnes of protein per day, following a roughly R140 million ($10 million) investment from the German company Christof Industries in 2018. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has also invested in the company. 

The company hopes to build a total of 100 waste-to-nutrient factories by 2024 and a further 100 by 2027. 

“Interestingly, despite insects forming a part of the traditional diets of at least two billion people worldwide, talk of insects for human consumption is now a growing topic in the West too,” Drew said.

“First-hand experiences have demonstrated the severe effects of climate change on food production and underscored the need to find viable alternatives that contribute to repairing our environment.”

In South Africa, it would likely be described as 'insect protein' on the ingredient list of a product, depending on a manufacturer's labelling preferences, Drew said.

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