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World's first commercial fly farm in Cape Town

Jul 23 2014 07:47
Eugenie du Preez

Cape Town - Where there is muck, there is money. So says Jason Drew, entrepreneur and co-founder  of AgriProtein, the world's first commercial fly farm in Cape Town, which by headcount will be the largest farming operation on the planet.

AgriProtein has raised $11m to build its first two commercial farms, which will each house 8.5 billion flies - the first in a series of 40 such farms to be rolled out. Its backers include Australia’s Twynam Group, Germany’s s.Oliver group as well as a UK, US and a South African family office.

AgriProtein uses flies reared on a very large scale to lay eggs that are hatched into larvae on organic waste material. The larvae are then harvested and dried into a natural and sustainable feed for chicken and fish.

Drew explains the philosophy behind the business: "We take for granted the fact that we should recycle our glass, newspapers, tin and more recently plastic and water.... But this is only the tip of the iceberg.

"Nearly one-third of the fish we take from our seas – some fifty million tonnes a year - is used in our industrial agricultural and pet food industries. Yet at the same time we dispose of hundreds of millions of tonnes of nutrient-rich waste."

Manure is a key source of valuable nutrients, says Drew. "Most animals only take in a small percentage of the nutrients that pass through them.

"An animal would drop its manure on the field or die in the bush and nature would recycle the waste nutrients, using insects. A fly would lay its eggs on the waste nutrient source, the eggs would hatch into larvae and birds and fish would eat many of those larvae or flies – recycling the nutrients – as well as cleaning up the bio-hazard."

Drew came upon the idea that this natural  process could form the heart of a new business. "I decided to industrialise fly farming. We take waste nutrients from slaughterhouses – blood and guts – and feed this to the eggs laid by our fly breeding stock.

Copying nature

"These eggs hatch into larvae and grow at an enormous rate once you take away the environmental factors that stop this happening in nature."

The composition of fishmeal is almost exactly the same as that of fly larvae, which is why it was chosen as a substitute. 

Says Drew: "We've copied nature and led the process of making protein from waste nutrients profitably, sustainably and on a large scale."

His idea fell upon receptive ears: "We told our story and people listened and were inspired; we then assembled a great team, wrote a solid business plan and are now setting about ‘repairing the future’ with our business."

AgriProtein company has received product approval in South Africa and believes that larvae meal will achieve European acceptance as an animal feed within 24 months.

"It is after all what these animals would eat in the wild and what free range chicken and freshwater fish eat today," says Drew. Independent academic research has tested and proven the efficiency of this natural protein in a range of farmed animals.

He points out the ecological advantages: "Instead of polluting the environment with abattoir and other organic waste, it is turned into high quality protein that can naturally replace fishmeal in industrial farming and help save our seas."

Achieving all this has been a difficult journey: "We had to create a new science, new farming techniques, overcome public and regulatory perceptions - it was a mammoth task."

The company is targeting the existing $12bn fishmeal market, and will start licensing its nutrient recycling technology worldwide in 2015. Predicts Drew: "Within fifteen years we will consider it as normal to recycle our waste nutrients as we do our paper, tin and glass today."

View gallery.

New frontier, new fortunes to be made

Speaking about the experience of embarking upon a brand new business concept, Drew says: "Success is the result of  overcoming the constant challenges and failures that any new venture encounters.

"In getting to where we are, we had the best day of our lives and the worst day of our lives - sometimes in the same hour."

Inspiration came from the realisation that the company is at the forefront of a new frontier with new fortunes to be made. "We were inspired by the realisation that the industrial revolution is over and that today you can be a capitalist and an environmentalist.

"Every age has its great opportunities from which fortunes are made, and the great fortunes of the sustainability revolution have yet to be made," says Drew.

"The more we produce, the more cash we generate and profit we make. At the same time every tonne of MagMeal (insect-based protein meal) we produce from existing waste is a tonne of fish we do not have to take from the seas - so we are saving our seas, one fish at a time."
 
 - Fin24

*Jason Drew is on the executive team of AgriProtein and the author of The Story of The Fly and How It Could Save The World.

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