Farmers are turning to vermiculture to address Harare’s uncollected waste problem and to produce affordable livestock feed.
On a sunny and windy morning, Brighton Zambezi picked up a kilogram of black soldier fly larvae in a box. In a few days he would send them to a farmer in neighboring Botswana.
The agricultural entrepreneur raises these insect larvae, worm-like creatures that eventually grow into adult insects, at the back of his mother’s house in Sunningdale, a high-density suburb of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare .
“I plan to send the larvae across the border anytime this week to a farmer who wants to start breeding black soldier flies,” says Zambezi, a 38-year-old single father.
Black soldier flies are harmless insects that are attracted to rotting trash. They can be found in garbage dumps and urban dumps, but they can also be found in illegal dumpsites in residential areas with uncollected trash such as Sunningdale, where Zambezi collected the larvae which he put in a small cage when he started this maggot project. in 2019.
A technician by profession, Zambezi developed an interest in insect farming after overhearing a conversation between his seatmates on a flight to neighboring South Africa. After researching the process further, Zambezi became convinced that farming insects would help solve various problems his community faced, from uncollected garbage to a lack of affordable protein-rich food for chicken and fish. .
Today, Zambezi travels to neighboring countries, including Botswana and Mozambique, to help people set up black soldier fly stations on their farms.
Uncollected rubbish is a threat in Harare. There are inconsistencies in garbage collection by municipal authorities, especially in high- and medium-density suburbs, forcing residents to find alternative places near their homes to dispose of trash. Yet for humans, the decomposing waste is a health hazard, providing a breeding ground for deadly diseases such as cholera and typhoid. Removing garbage from these landfills also reduces methane and carbon dioxide emissions produced by the decomposition of waste.
Zambezi feeds these insects, housed in various recycled bins and containers under black netting, with vegetable and fruit waste he collects from dumps in his neighborhood.
Beneath this net are shrubs and weeds where black soldier flies lay eggs after mating. After five days, the eggs hatch into maggots – the worm-like juvenile form of the maggot – which are then harvested and sold as cheap, high-protein feed for farm animals.
Zambezi runs a small poultry project in his backyard. “The larvae are fed directly from the crop to animals like fish or chicken,” he told Next City. “It has a natural protein content of about 60% compared to other foods like soy.”
Some people even consume these insects due to their high protein content.
“Insects are our future food innovation,” says Zambezi. “It works all year round and is not affected by climate change. With the right equipment, breeding black soldier flies thrives even in winter.
Another insect breeder, Joseph Anesu Marova, keeps maggots in the backyard of his house in Warren Park, another densely populated suburb of Harare. He frequently visits illegal dumpsites in his area to collect trash to feed the insects, helping to reduce uncollected trash.
“I frequently scavenge waste to feed the black soldier flies,” says Marova, 26, founder of Unique Sustainable Ethics iN Agricultural Solutions, a company that provides advisory services to farmers in Zimbabwe.
Marova provides food to other farmers and sells grubs to Zimbabwean colleges and universities as well as farmers in Namibia and South Africa. A kilogram of pre-pupal insects sells for around $50.
“We are making profits,” says Marova. He is now increasing his annual maggot production goal.
“For chicken farming, feed accounts for 70% of production costs. So, with the black soldier fly as a protein-rich food, we reduce our feed to about 35% of production costs.
Zimbabwe is experiencing economic malaise, with high inflation and an unstable currency fueling soaring prices for most goods. The need to drastically reduce and manage production costs is driving many farmers to innovate in order to stay in business, says Paul Zakariya, executive director of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union. “Animal feed prices continue to soar against depressed producer prices,” he says.
Waste management also continues to be a major problem in many settlements, he says.
“Breeding black soldier flies is proving to be an effective way to deal with this situation,” says Zakariya.
But the small-scale urban settlement can be a brake on this emerging solution. Morova says the lack of space limits her insect farming ambition.
“I fail to meet the demands of farmers who need larvae to feed poultry and fish,” he says. “With the limited space I have, I can only meet the demand from farmers who need the larvae to establish their own maggot breeding stations.”
Although insects can be reared year-round, the small-scale urban setting of its operation also means that the winter season can disrupt insect production: black soldier fly rearing requires higher temperatures of at least 25 degrees Celsius.
“In winter, I definitely stop breeding and I start again in summer,” explains Marova. “Even if I put a greenhouse, I cannot harvest enough sunlight because it is an urban area, so I would need other equipment like infrared lamps to control temperatures, which has a cost.
Eventually, Zambezi aims to become a commercial insect breeder.
“If adequate land is provided, I will be one of Zimbabwe’s first commercial black soldier fly farmers,” he says. So far, it has received no government support, corporate partnerships or bank loans.
But the Zimbabwean government has publicly noted the potential of black soldier fly farming to transform local livestock feed formulation. Agronomist John Basera, permanent secretary in Zimbabwe’s ministry of lands, agriculture, water and rural resettlement, told Next City that the breeding of the black soldier fly has the full support of the government.
“It’s a noble program. We just have to look at how scalable it can be,” he says.
Farai Shawn Matiashe is a journalist based in Mutare, Zimbabwe. His work has been published by Al Jazeera, CNN International, The Thomson Reuters Foundation, Euronews, Quartz Africa and The Africa Report.