Zihanga Ltd has ventured bigtime into bio conversion of organic waste using Black Soldier Fly
By Joseph Macharia
To most people, organic waste is an unbearable nuisance that is to be done away with. Appreciable amounts of organic wastes are dumped all over causing a mess to our surroundings. Zihanga Ltd, a promising agri-business startup is converting tons of organic wastes through Black Soldier Fly (BSF) larvae into quality organic frass fertilizer and insect protein simultaneously, effectively, killing two birds with one stone.
The company cofounded by two ambitious youths Nicholas Ndekei, the CEO and Brian Amenya was established in 2019 but kicked off operations in December 2020. They bagged the 1st runners up position for mass producing insects fertilizer and bio-fuels using bio-waste under the #MyLittleBigThing competition in 2021, a testament of the potential of their venture. However, the journey has not been rosy. The two first met in 2017 at Ridgeways Baptist Church where their mutual passion for farming saw them jointly venture unsuccessfully into cabbage farming and export of chilli peppers.
Origin of Zihanga
Nicholas later joined United States International University (USIU) in Kenya to pursue a Bachelor of Applied Science in Banking, Corporate, Finance and Securities Law. It was here that one of his professors introduced him to BSF farming. “The idea of BSF farming came about when I was a student at USIU doing economics. One of our professors called Dr. Paul Wachana who was in charge of the business program of Insects for Food, Feed and other Uses Programme (INSFEED) at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) happened to mention the idea in our class,” passionately explains Ndekei.
Upon Ndekei’s request Dr. Wachana hooked him up with Dr. Chrysantus Tanga, project lead and a research scientist with the INSFEED. In 2019, the duo attended a training program dubbed Y-Minds Connect’ facilitated by Rockerfeller Foundation. The following year, Zihanga Ltd was registered, named after the first Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) – Zero Hunger. The foundation put in Ksh 2.6 million with Ndekei, Dr. Tanga and a colleague raising another Ksh 600,000 to launch the business. The capital went to acquisition of a greenhouse, buying of one thousand crates and seven hundred metal poles. They started off with forty kilograms of five-day-old larvae. They have grown quickly and are currently recycling over eighty tons every month.
Their business model involves picking up organic wastes from different places like the nearby Wangige Market, Ndumbuini Pig Slaughterhouse and wastes from breweries. They fetch the waste using their vehicle. Once on the farm, the wastes are mixed then start to be fed on the Black Soldier Flies. After feeding it takes 10 -14 days for the larvae to break down all the waste into quality organic frass fertilizer. The flies feed on the wastes at different stages. By the time 14 days are over the flies would have broken down complex compounds and introduced enough nutrients to the wastes making it ideal for farming.
At the fourteenth day where BSF is usually at a stage called insta 5, is when quality insect protein is harvested. The insect protein is dried, packaged and sold in the market as animal feeds. Insect protein is gaining popularity given its immense benefits as compared to other sources of proteins. Similarly, the organic frass fertilizer is sieved and packaged ready for sale. “Our main market for the organic frass fertilizer is usually strawberry farmers and we have also a large network of French bean farmers,” notes Ndekei. The fertilizers come in different prices and packages. There’s the wholesale price which is Ksh. 20,000 per ton, wholesale with contract is Ksh 15,000 and retail price goes for Ksh 2,000 for a 50kg bag translating to Ksh 40,000 per ton. A kilo of dried insect protein goes for Ksh 110 – 140.
“We experience abnormal profits because one product covers the costs and leaves some profit and the other product gives us pure profits,” Ndekei hints. Apart from the financial rewards that BSF farming brings there are other advantages. Unlike other types of fertilizers, organic frass fertilizers take a much shorter period and it is the easiest to compose tons of wastes. With BSF you can decompose a huge amount of organic waste quicker and produce high quality frass fertilizers.
“Organic frass fertilizer has 21 nutrients, so the plant is not only taking the NPK, but also both other macro and micro nutrients that are essential for growth,” Ndekei explains adding that notably frass fertilizer has a higher levels of calcium which enables farmers growing fruits to harvest fruits with longer shelf life. NPK stands for Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium, the three primary nutrients plants need to grow.
“After testing the fertilizer at the University of Nairobi (UoN), we confirmed that frass fertilizer has all the required macronutrients like phosphorus, potassium, nitrogen, boron and calcium which are necessary for crop growth and productivity,” Amenya remarks. More interestingly, organic frass fertilizer contains chitin which helps it to suppress nematodes in the soil as well as enabling plants to fight nematodes.
Insect protein is rich in nutrients too. It enables farmers who are rearing pigs, poultry and fish have their animals mature faster by one half months than the normal time. Given the rising costs of feeds, insect proteins provide a cheaper and a better alternative. “For example if you feed pigs commercial feeds it will take 7 months to mature, but if you feed with insect protein it will take five and half months only,” Ndekei explains. Besides, insect protein has antibiotic properties which mean if you feed animals with it, you won’t be required to give them artificial antibiotics.
Stages of BSF
Black Soldier Fly goes through seven different stages for a full life cycle. The first stage is the egg, followed by the larvae which go through five stages. The larvae transitions from the first stage called insta 1 to the last insta 5. It is at insta 5 that the protein level is at the highest and where it is harvested. The sixth stage is called pre-pupa and the final stage is pupa where it becomes an adult insect, a Black Soldier Fly. When they are mature that’s when they are met and lay eggs to continue the cycle again and again.
On a weekly basis, the team at Zihanga Ltd places 7 kilograms of pupae in the love cage, where they metamorphose into adult flies after 3 weeks. A ‘love cage’ is a netted enclosure where the flies mate to produce eggs. The flies mate and lay eggs which are then collected and placed in Insta 1 and the cycle continue.
To produce the frass, maggots are nurtured until larvae stage for seven days and then introduced to organic waste where they feed and convert the waste into an organic fertilizer which is decomposed in a heap for a month before the frass is ready for use. Studies by ICIPE on BSF demonstrate that organic frass is environmentally friendly, affordable and sustainable.
“Our future plans involve us being present in most counties in Kenya and East Africa. Where there is waste we want to be there; where there are farmers we want to supply them with frass fertilizer. By 2025 we want to triple our current production capacity,” Ndekei shares. The team is planning to triple their production capacity by 2025 as they have already expanded to 3 more greenhouses.
To new farmers who are interested, Ndekei says they are other forms you can start BSF farming by deploying integrated method where you can mix poultry or livestock rearing and BSF so that you can have your waste recycled immediately. “Yes BSF farming is profitable but data management has to be at a very high level,” he remarks.
He also a word of counsel to the youths: “Find a niche, not necessarily a BSF, but find a skill that is needed in future learn about it, be patient with that skill and expand your mind. When you are looking at something you should approach it from a point of view: Does it solve a problem? Or will a million people be able to consume it?”
His classic parting shot: “Continue with your path, don’t let the setbacks in your life to put you down. One day you may be low, but it only takes thirty seconds for an opportunity to come your way. Don’t give up to early.”