Maggot farming is a new (if slightly squeamish) business idea, being promoted by the Zimbabwe Organic and Natural Food Association (ZONFA). It might sound radical, but maggot farms are already well-established in the USA, Canada, Europe and Asia. In South Africa a company called AgriProtein – founded by brothers Jason and David Drew – has recently invested $11 million to set up maggot farms on an industrial scale.
There are several reasons why we should consider the advantages of maggot farming in Zimbabwe. As our population grows the demand for animal protein like chicken, fish and pork, increases. At present, Zimbabwe imports considerable amounts of livestock feed, with most of the protein coming from either soya or fish meal. Soya production involves intensive mono-cropping which leads to a loss of biodiversity, plus extensive use of artificial fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. And soya prices are rising due to increased demand.
The production of fish meal is equally problematic. While our oceans are being depleted due to over-fishing, more than one third of all fish landed is converted into animal feed. It is also not very cost effective: it takes a minimum of 1.5 kg of fish meal to produce 1 kg of farmed chicken meat. “We are fishing out the ocean to feed our pigs,” says Paul Vantomme of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). “That’s not a wise long-term solution.”
Maggot farming does not take up much space, so valuable land can be used for food production. It does not require large quantities of water or other inputs, so it’s ideal for small scale farmers, particularly in drought-prone areas. In addition, once the maggots have been harvested, the remaining matter makes nitrogen-rich compost which also has commercial value.
ZONFA is promoting maggot farming as part of an integrated solid waste management system under their ZONFA Environmental Management Services (ZEMS) programme. They propose setting up maggot farms at landfill sites, dump sites, waste water processing plants and even at abattoirs. These would be fairly large commercial projects but small-scale farming is also being promoted and is particularly suitable for community projects.
Turning waste into protein is an innovative, efficient and natural transformation system. And it’s a fairly quick process. A single fly can lay up to 750 eggs a week and the maggots increase in weight by over 400 times in just a few days. Maggots are usually harvested after around nine days which makes for a very quick and efficient return. Once the maggots have been harvested they are dried and then crushed to make livestock meal which is high in protein as well as amino acids.
One of ZONFA’s current programmes is quail breeding for both their meat and eggs which are considered healthy, gourmet foods. The bird droppings are collected daily and mixed into slurry. Other organic matter is added, like household and food waste. This is then placed into drums or containers and the flies start to do their magic. Eggs are laid which hatch into maggots which are harvested before they pupate into new flies.
ZONFA advocates pouring cold water onto the maggots which causes them to move out of the slurry onto a dry sheet. Others simply place the slurry, once it has dried out a little, in a filter tray (a plastic bread crate works well) over a drum or even a black bin. This is left out in the sun. The maggots try to avoid the sunlight and fall into the drum beneath. Both methods seem to work well.
The maggots are then dried and crushed. This dried product is mixed with ‘crush’ (grinding maize or other grain meal) and some other ingredients, to provide a nutritious, high-protein food for the quails. The left over slurry becomes excellent plant food. This simple small-scale method has the potential to help create employment and ease the burdens of poverty. One breeder said that he can sell up to $100 worth of eggs per day and still not meet the demand.
ZONFA will be holding training sessions for interested parties towards the end of March. Contact [email protected] for more information.