Insects For Feed, Food and Fertiliser (I4F), a flagship project funded by NEPAD SANBio through the BioFISA II programme, is turning highly nutritious yellow mealworms into animal feed, food and other products.
When you think of insects, your first thoughts are probably of creepy crawlies; they might make you feel scared, grossed out or just uncomfortable. But a new project wants you to feel differently about insects, and more specifically mealworms. Could you ever think of these squirming bugs as food?
Mealworms make a sustainable alternative to traditional animal protein supply such as fish, poultry or soya products, because they are equally nutritious and more sustainable as a feed source. Mealworm as a base for animal feed and later human food products could prevent global (and in particular African) shortages of high-quality protein while offering a productive use of industrial waste streams. Currently, aquaculture and poultry feed are mostly based on fishmeal (ocean fish), maize and soy meal. In the quantities used globally, these sources are unsustainable and will lead to irreversible environmental damage.
“Mealworms can breed in large quantities, in a small space, hardly need any water, and produce high quality protein; as good as fish. The way they live and breed is more sustainable than producing beef, for example. It is about global sustainability, with our growing population and current food habits we will not be able to feed everyone,” says Mr Florian Willfort from Scaled Impact, the South African non-profit company driving the commercial aspect of the I4F project.
Mealworms are the larval form of Tenebrio molitor or darkling beetle. They are 2-3 cm long and about 1 mm in diameter. Mealworms mostly feed on wheat bran but also on brewery and milling waste products; they live in the dark and flourish in warm conditions. Mealworms’ ability to live on dry food waste, using little land or water, and their ability convert food into protein at a much higher rate than livestock makes them ecologically sustainable.
The I4F project is scaling up yellow mealworm production to industrial capacity, hoping to address the future demand for high-protein food. The project, which has been running since May 2017, is funded by NEPAD Southern Africa Network for Biosciences (SANBio) through the BioFISA II Programme, which aims to strengthen life sciences innovation in Africa by supporting multinational product development and commercialisation in line with regional innovation strategies. The grant is funding the proof of concept and first steps into commercialisation of mealworms for feed, food, and fertiliser.
“Our first objective is to produce the insect protein at the cost of fishmeal, which is R15 per kilogram so that it can be used as an ingredient for poultry and aquaculture feed. If we do that then poultry and fish farmers would not be dependent on imported fishmeal anymore. Through that we will create social impact as breeders will have better yields and better food for their poultry and aquaculture fish,” says Willfort.
The goal is to build a mealworm industry, and to become a mealworm centre of competence in the SADC region. The project is planning to build a new factory to produce mealworm protein by the end of 2018, and is currently looking for technology/engineering partnerships and funding to build the factory, as well as partners and collaborators with expertise in entomology, production technology, food processing.
The I4F project is a result of a partnership between Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) in Malawi, Department of Research and Specialist Services (DRSS) in Zimbabwe, and Scaled Impact NPO in South Africa. LUANAR is the project leader focused on aquaculture applications while the DRSS focuses on using mealworm products for poultry. Scaled Impact NPO is responsible for the commercialisation and industrialisation of mealworm production.
For more information on the project and partners please visit the NEPAD SANBio I4F project page, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Florian Willfort on +27827744835.