Companies capitalizing on high-quality insect protein…

One of the companies, Inseco, secured $5.3 million in seed funding from Futuregrowth Asset Management, with participation from E4E Africa, Oak Drive Ventures and private investors. At the time of writing, this was the largest seed fundraiser ever in South Africa. The other company, Maltento, is a smaller entity and is on track to secure seed funding. The market, it seems, is big enough for both.

Both companies produce protein, oil and fertilizer (from the by-product) derived from fly larvae for the global pet food market. The products are a nutritious and cost-effective alternative to conventional ingredients such as fishmeal and fish oil, with distinct environmental returns.

Both companies were founded by people with a passion for solving global food production problems. Simon Hazell, CEO and co-founder of Inseco, says: “Today more than ever, we see the importance of sustainability and the responsibility we have to be a more resource-efficient society for future generations.

“We believe insects will play an important role in this transition, becoming a widely available source of sustainable protein and an important form of nutrition to help meet the dietary needs of the future.”

Dean Smorenburg, CEO of Maltento, who started breeding black soldier flies in his living room while working as a management consultant, says: “The world’s population is exploding and we are consuming resources faster than we are replenishing them. I had a theory that bugs offered a unique solution, so I started experimenting.

November 24, 2021 – Inside the Black Soldier Fly breeding room at biotech company Maltento in Epping, Cape Town. Photo by David Harrison

The black soldier fly is incredibly efficient, using 95 times less land and 26 times less water to produce the same amount of protein harvested from a soybean or cattle plantation – but not at the same cost. The process is simple: adult flies lay eggs and, once hatched, these little larvae are distributed to feedlots, where they feed. The larvae are vegetarian and are fed with industrial by-products such as spent grains and yeast, and not with waste from farms, supermarkets or restaurants, where hygiene is not guaranteed.

“The adult fly does not have mouthparts, which is why it does not carry pathogens,” says Smorenburg. “The larva converts the food into 50% protein, 30% fat and 20% carbohydrates, which should support the adult fly throughout the reproductive process.”

A handful of baby grubs, weighing 1g, will turn into 4kg of fattened larvae in nine days, he explains. “They really are the heroes of this story.” Some hatch to continue the reproductive cycle, but most are transformed. Some are dried and exported to the United States and others are ground into a coarse flour or pressed for oils. At this stage, Inseco produces more than 100 tons and Maltento around 25 tons per month. These two companies are not alone in their efforts. It is estimated that global demand for insect protein could reach 500,000 tonnes by 2030, compared to current production of 10,000 tonnes.

“There has been a lot of hype about insect protein replacing fishmeal and soy as a source of protein, but at current costs and with current production methods this is not possible – we have a long way to go,” says Smorenburg, who says animals love.

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As a responsible investor, investing in Inseco suited Futuregrowth. “Compared to traditional protein sources, insect protein has an inherently lower environmental impact, as the process directly reduces food waste, involves minimal greenhouse gas emissions, limited water use and uses no arable land,” says Amrish Narrandes, head of unlisted. equity at Futuregrowth. “In addition to strong environmental, social and governance arguments, insect protein has superior nutritional content, resulting in higher feed conversion rates compared to traditional protein sources.” DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly newspaper Daily Maverick 168, which is available nationwide for R25.

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