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South African company finds economic value in flies and maggots

Most people would struggle to see how flies, maggots and human waste can hold any monetary value. A South African company is, however, envisaging a massive industry.

David Drew

David Drew is the director of AgriProtein Technologies, a company in South Africa with the primary focus of producing an alternative, sustainable protein feed for livestock like pigs and chickens. The solution they offer is magmeal, a protein feed made up of maggots.

Magmeal offers an alternative solution to fishmeal, which has become increasingly expensive and unsustainable in a world where growing populations are leading to increased consumption. “Fishmeal is a great product but it is not very sustainable,” says Drew. “[Globally] 50% of all the fish that we take out of the sea, doesn’t end up on our plates. It goes towards making a thing called fishmeal and fishmeal is a really good animal feed.”

But there are problems with fishmeal, particularly for African farmers and especially with prices going up 5% a month for the past three months according to Drew. Besides the carbon footprint and diesel costs of transporting fishmeal from the coast across Africa, Drew says that the main problem with using fishmeal for small scale farmers in Africa is they cannot rely on a solid supply chain.

“What that means is if you take an inland farmer in Zim, or in Zambia, or in the Congo, their fish meal has to come from the sea and they are a hell of a long way from the sea. Because it is Africa, people can’t afford to keep large store houses. That’s just not how the continent works, unlike America … So I think one thing that is really key is that it’s alleviating the fear of that supply chain because one of the beauties of magmeal is that you produce it where it’s needed,” says Drew.

So how is magmeal made? It starts with a fly cage full of flies, which Drew and his colleagues have researched how to mate and collect the eggs at an industrial level. “It takes about four days for us to collect eggs out of flies that have just emerged from their pupae. We collect the eggs, we hatch the eggs over night in an incubator and then we lay them out on a food source,” explains Drew. “Three days later the larvae (or maggots) weigh 280 times more than they did three days before … then we harvest them and we then have buckets and buckets of wriggling larvae and those larvae are then dried and turned into a meal and it is as easy as that. The whole process is about 10-12 days long and it’s really easy to do at small-scale.”

Food sources for the larvae include abattoir blood, which Drew and his team currently use in the magmeal production process. However, they are researching the use of human faeces to produce larvae as part of an environmental programme commissioned under the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

A single female fly can lay 1,000 eggs per week.

“One of the things that we are putting together is a domestic unit that people can use in poor areas to generate income from making larvae to produce chickens for them to sell,” continues Drew. “And for the back of rich people’s kitchens to make them feel good that they are recycling their kitchen waste in a nice little thing called the bug barrel, which is like a sort of worm bin, but on steroids.”

AgriProtein Technologies has also partnered with Sanergy, a Kenyan sanitation and waste removal company that distributes toilets to local entrepreneurs to rent out in slums. The human waste collected from this can then be sold as a food source for the larvae. Drew says this can then be used to produce two and a half products. The first being the maggots that can be sold as a protein feed, and the second is a soil conditioner, which is not as effective as fertiliser, but is nevertheless useful in farming. The “half product” refers to a larvae oil that can be extracted from maggots. Drew says it is similar to linseed and can be used as a heating oil, among other things. However, the extraction process has not been perfected, and it remains a half product in Drew’s opinion.

“The protein feed industry for animals is a US$70 billion industry a year,” says Drew. “We don’t in any way expect to be the industry replacement as a company. We would like to kick-start a new industry and exist alongside it. For us to be a player in that new industry would be great. Many people will come and copy what we have started and that is fine. We welcome that because they will help us roll out across the world. Will it be competition? Yes, but the market is so vast that it will be a long time till we are treading on each other’s toes.”

In spite of the environmental and economic opportunities maggot farming holds, Drew says he is being very cautious. “We are taking our time to industrialise and commercialise that process of fly laying as you have to be fairly careful on our planet when you start to industrialise things because you can really bugger things up really seriously, as they did in the early days with chicken production and cow production.”

However, the opportunities maggot farming holds for African poultry and pig farmers cannot be ignored. With production costs relatively low, magmeal can be a cheap alternative for fishmeal on the continent. Drew, with an entrepreneurial mind, also pointed out that maggots, while feeding, can produce temperature of up to 45 degrees by themselves. “We could run heating pipes through our maggots to heat our water,” adds Drew, highlighting just another potential use of maggots.

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  • Nicholate Kambarami

    would like to start one please help

  • we would like to begin one in our country

  • All sounds good in theory, and prospects look good. I am yet to see a commercial viable operation that produces a sellable product. Secondly I am yet to see a major feed maker use maggot meal. And the reduction of live maggots to a sterilized meal is an involved one. It’s a little more tricky than watching a 15 min scoop on Cart Blanch.

  • nekuee

    I am a teacher and would like to research about maggots . I want to breeding flies and maggots.
    I want to have plan work and data about environmental problem and disease between human and maggots.
    how can I begin this project in a small scale.
    special thanks

  • roy robertson

    i would like to start this at the tannery that i work at can you send me some info please.

  • kobus

    Good day
    I would like to know more about this also as I would like to start a aquaponic system that would cater for the rural areas of nelspruit with high protein fish as well as fresh vegetables.

    I am also on the lookout for a sustainable farming method that would benefit such a project as well as private investors that would be interested in such a venture.

    Magmeal is surely something extraordinary to look in to for such a business proposal.

  • Jacobus Steyn

    I am very interested in farming with flies. I am current a farmer in lifestock. How can i get more information or can we visit you to have a look at the business?

  • Adriaan van Rensburg

    Hi David
    Very interested in this as a feed for my pig farm to give me a much better protein value. Could you send me a business plan and cost of start up.I am in the eastern cape neer Port Elizabeth. The article above sounds very interesting and I have more questions but if possible would like to mail them if possible.

  • Raymond

    Hi David

    The questions asked, prior to this encompass all I that i would like to know. We have a farm near Nelspruit and would also investigate “magmeal”

    Thanks, Raymond

  • Dean Posthumus

    I would like to investigate the available opportuinities and establish capital cost requirements for a venture of this nature.

  • Evert Schwim

    Hi David

    I am living in Bloemfontein and is also very interested in maggot farming . Please can you send me the details how to start and what it will cost more or less.

    Thank you so much.

  • Daleen Passano

    Hi David,

    I’ve seen the article on Carte Blanch yesterday night and on a previous show. Very interrested.
    Sorry I’m actually Afrikaans but I will try.
    I’m staying in Skeerpoort on the west side of Hartbeespoort Dam.
    I’m doing catering but feel to do something else now.
    Can u please send me all the information how to start a maggot farm. Here are lots of chicken farms around me, if I’ve got the correct information to start a business like this I think I can make a living.
    Please and thanks.

  • Anton Nel

    Hi David,
    The article on carte blanche this evening got me thinking and was most interesting to say the least. I work in the construction industry and am looking for a business plan to fall back on.

    I’m from an area in kzn( Pietermaritzburg) which has many poultry and feed lots. I was thinking this would be perfect area wise to set up a fly/larva farm. The maggot meel could be supplied to both these industries.

    How much Capitol would I need to start up a business such as yours?

    Any information and your valued advise would be greatly appreciated.

    Kind regards,


  • Chanelle

    How can I start something like this in Asia? it sounds very interesting and I would love to be apart of something like this?

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