Black soldier fly keeping in Gulu: An effective approach to the organic waste crisis

Chicken feeding on black soldier fly larvae

Whenever 23-year-old Richard Olanya would see mounds of discarded fruits, vegetables, and other crop harvest scattered at Oliyanga Annex market in the Northern city of Gulu, the loss was devastating.  fellow farmers’ efforts were being undermined.

Post-harvest handling is one of the major challenges facing crop production in Africa, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). FAO estimates from 2011 suggest that as much as 40 percent of food produced in Sub-Saharan Africa is lost between production and consumption due to poor handling.

The FAO has defined food waste as the decrease in the quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions by retailers, food service providers, and consumers.

Food is wasted in many ways, that is to say, fresh produce that deviates from what is considered optimal, for example in terms of shape, size, and color, is often removed from the supply chain during sorting operations, foods that are close to, at or beyond the “best-before” date are often discarded by retailers and consumers and large quantities of wholesome edible food are often unused or leftover and discarded from household kitchens and eating establishments.

The UNEP March 2021 Food Waste Index report estimates that 17 percent of the food produced globally each year is wasted. That amounts to 1.03 billion tons (1,000,000,000kgs) of food. In just Uganda alone, up to 45% of fruit and vegetables end up being discarded.

Not only does that waste have an economic cost, but other studies have also pegged it at about $30 billion a year it creates 21 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, largely from landfills. By far the largest part of the waste comes from households, restaurants, farms, grocery and distribution, food service, and manufacturers.

 

“A lot of effort goes into food production, both on the side of farmers and the eco-system in which this food is produced. In every season, for example, the land loses its fertility. We can’t afford to waste produce,” noted the resident of Kirombe village in Gulu district, who is innovatively trying to revalue crop yields even in the waste state through insect farming.

Known as the Black Soldier Flies (BSF), the insects which Olanya houses in his backyard can turn organic waste into crop fertilizers. Their larvae are also harvested as a high protein and nutrition source in poultry and animal feed.

Video: Olanya explains the process of turning food waste using a black soldier fly to animal feeds

Benefits of using a black soldier fly

According to Richard, these maggots are not only good for the environment but are a solution to the increasingly expensive animal feeds, that are driving most farmers out of business. Olanya further notes that black soldier fly larvae bio-conservation technology allows farmers to produce feeds cheaply and sustainably compared to formula feeds which are progressively more expensive.

The technology also produces raw materials for manufacturing organic fertilizers, soil conditioners, lubricants, and biodiesel. This technology also results in a sustainable waste-management process.

In addition, the larvae have a high-value feed source, rich in protein and fat to support growth in poultry, fish, and pigs. He says one gets another bonus of the by-products of the bioconversion process – compost – which can be harvested and marketed to farmers as a biofertilizer.

Gloria Atim checking out organic fertilizers got from food waste

(Gloria Atim checking out organic fertilizers got from food waste; Photo by Atwiine Rhonet)

It requires less space, water, energy and, most importantly, utilizes waste materials found everywhere. The larvae eat any organic waste ranging from decaying jackfruit, fish offal, raised on various organic waste materials. They also require less water than soybeans and the larvae’s waste can be used as an organic fertilizer to boost both small- and large-scale crop farming.

“Black soldier fly keeping is my major source of income. Unlike other youths who undermine jobs, I’m employed and I can take care of myself. As well, I’m happy that I conserve our environment when I’m doing my job. In addition, I have met so many people including building strong connections with my clients.” Richard explains.

Okot Meshach, a resident in Ber edge division and a poultry farmer who chose to use a larva as the major feed for his chicken, highlights the benefits of feeding a larva to poultry compared to these other manufactured feeds.

(An audio of Okot Meshach on benefits)

Limitations towards black soldier fly keeping

According to Richard Olanya just like any other business, black soldier fly keeping is hindered by many factors. The main factors that affect the sustainability and scalability of this technology in the production of high-quality wastes and the down-stream application of products (for example, live-feed for aquaculture) are listed below:

Poor waste management practices. This includes a lack of proper organic waste segregation right from the markets and households where the highest percentage of food waste is done, incentives for landfill disposal, and complex collection and transport logistics.

Food waste at Lubigi garbage sorting and Re-use center Gulu

The use of dissimilar wastes from various sources harms the growth of black soldier fly larvae. This involves the production of animal feed with variable and unfavorable nutrient content. These conditions hamper the entire performance of waste treatment.

In addition, Richards says that people who are seen collecting food waste from all these sources of garbage are disrespected, undermined since the job requires being dirty among others.

James Olowo, the executive director of Oliganix solutions emphasizes the contribution of food waste towards reducing the amount of Methane produced by landfills. It’s one of the strongest greenhouse gasses and food waste is one of the biggest contributors to the world’s methane production.

Unsorted waste at Lubigi one of the biggest dumping sites in Gulu

Less food loss and waste would lead to more efficient land use and better water resource management with positive impacts on climate change and livelihoods

According to Michael Christopher an environment officer in the Gulu district, the transformation from a municipality to a city has come with a lot of challenges regarding climate change. Among these include a few garbage collections centers and resources like collecting trucks which lead to poor disposal of food waste in markets and roads since no one is there to stop people from mixing rubbish

However, as an environment department, Michael says that some measures are being taken which include sensitizing people about the dangers of food waste and putting at least two skits per location one for gradable waste and another for non-gradable waste like plastic and polythene bags such that community members are interested in recycling to take advantage of the action. That is to say Taka Taka plastics on plastic recycling and Mega environment and Oliganics Solutions on food waste recycling

(Michael Christopher an environment officer in his office at Gulu Municipal. Photo; Atwiine)

Michael Christopher an environment officer in his office at Gulu Municipal

Michael adds that climate change is a global challenge and everyone’s responsibility therefore there is a need for collaborative efforts to ensure that the issue is addressed. He continues to call upon market vendors to abide by the rules of garbage disposal put in place to ensure that food waste is eliminated in the community.

 

 

Below is a video documentary about this particular story voiced in Luganda Language

 

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