Zimbabwean proves maggot farming can be a viable business

By Tafadzwa Dzenga and Tafadzwa Ufumeli

An overheard conversation on an aeroplane changed Brighton Zambezi’s life. The former technician is now one of Zimbabwe’s pioneering black soldier fly maggot farmers, rearing the flies to produce affordable chicken feed for farmers.

In 2018, Brighton Zambezi was on a flight between Zimbabwe and South Africa, when he overheard a conversation that sparked his curiosity. It was about the value of maggots as a source of protein. Not just any maggots. Black soldier fly maggots.

Back home in Harare, Zambezi wasted no time. A technician by training, he knew that the maggots offered a solution to a problem he had seen first-hand.

“I have always been curious. I never believed in conventional professions. During my time as a technician, I always felt out of place though I was good at my job,” Zambezi explained of his mindset at the time.

What Zambezi had seen was a demand for cheaper, more nutritious chicken feed for backyard chicken farmers in Harare. However, there was little that the 38-year-old father of four could find, initially, to instruct him on to how to get started.

“There was nowhere I could go for lessons, so I went on the internet and started reading on the subject,” he explained.

Zambezi plunged into the virtual world to learn as much as he could. Before long, he was hooked. The neighbourhood of Sunningdale 2, some five kilometres south of the Harare central business district is known for the fowl runs that residents have set up in their back yards, rearing chickens to supplement their incomes. They struggle with the high price of chicken feed. The positive reaction of residents to his offer of healthy, affordable, and readily available chicken feed was all the encouragement he needed. He rolled up his sleeves and got started.

“I tried to import my initial colony from South Africa and other countries. It proved to be expensive, so I went to Mbare and other dumpsites in Harare,” he said, of the early days finding the breeding stock for his farm.

It took him a year but by 2019, Zambezi had set up his maggot farm. He then took a leap of faith and left his job at a top company to become a full-time black soldier fly farmer.

“When I ventured into black soldier fly farming, I felt a new lease of life. It is a gamble I took but every time I go to sleep, I feel more satisfied than I ever was,” he said.

“In the morning, I go to my black soldier fly cage. I feed my larvae, I spray water for my flies to drink then I go out and continue with my day-to-day business. For most days, that is all there is to it,” Zambezi added.

The second-born in a family of six, Zambezi said he is the first in his extended family to develop an interest in farming.

“l am the one who introduced farming to this family and l think I am the second black person to do black soldier fly farming in Zimbabwe,” he quipped.

“I have a feeling that this path I took will change my life and those around me for the better. It may not happen overnight, but I am sure black soldier fly farming will have good returns.”

Treasure Mafuramiti, a chicken farmer in Goromonzi, a communal area 40 kilometres east of Harare, has also taken up black soldier fly farming and is enjoying the returns. His cost of production for his chickens has dropped by close to 50% since he started using black soldier fly feed.

“The quality of chickens I am getting is better than what I used to get when I was using shop feed exclusively. These days I am mixing and it is working,” he says.

Maggots are highly nutritious – they consist of an average of 65% protein and 25% fat, compared with 35% protein in soy-based feed.

Encouraged by the promise of higher returns, Mafuramiti is now trying to feed maggots to his pigs, and he is optimistic that this, too, will be a game-changer for him.

An expert in black soldier fly in Zimbabwe, Joseph Anesu Marova, said maggot farming adaptation on a larger scale offers a significant boost to food production to ease the pressure of the rising demand for protein intake, especially meat and fish.

“The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has estimated that population growth and increased demand for meat and fish will require 70% more feed for cattle by 2050,” Marova said.

“This has put extra strain on arable land and further pressure on fish stocks; currently, a third of fish landed gets turned into fish meal for animal feeds,” he continued.

Zambezi, too, has branched out into chicken farming and has been able to substitute conventional chicken feed made from maize and sorghum, with his maggot-based feed.

“Two weeks of maggot farming brings an output compared to three months of soya,” he explains. And that has given him a competitive edge, enabling him to sell more chicken and earn more.

He charges the equivalent of $3 for his free-range chickens, while competitors charge $5 to $6.

Zambezi has also grown from farmer to instructor. While he conducts most of the training at his home, he is in demand across the region, helping people with the theory and also helping them get started.

“I have also done trainings in Botswana, Mozambique, and South Africa. People buy seed from me,” he said.

He sells 600 grammes of larvae for $100. A five-litre container of the larvae goes for $2,500. The maggots themselves sell at 65 cents per kilogramme.

The best way to feed the maggots, Zambezi finds, is with food waste from markets. He regularly goes to Mbare Musika (Zimbabwe’s biggest fresh vegetable market) to pick up what the farmers would have thrown away. To Zambezi, garbage mounds are gold.

Efficiently practising maggot farming, however, comes with some challenges.

Although production spikes during summer, with the heat providing the right conditions for the black soldier flies to mate, in winter, the cold conditions can be inhibitive. Zambezi has found a way around that problem through the use of infrared lights.

He is also limited by space for expansion. His entire operation is housed in a nine-square-metre workspace behind his family home.

Despite the challenges, Zambezi is confident in this business venture and is looking to the future with optimism.

“There are some who see me collecting garbage and they think I am losing my mind. I want to inspire young people in Zimbabwe and across the continent that they can have unfashionable jobs but still get to make a difference,” he said.

“I don’t think I will ever return to formal employment. I have found my calling. I want to be a commercial black soldier fly farmer.”

/bird story agency