Genetics project looks to boost use of insect protein in feed in East Africa

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Tomasz Klejdysz
© GettyImages/Tomasz Klejdysz

Related tags: genetics, black soldier fly, larvae, Kenya, Uganda

A new Kenya and Uganda focused project is looking to make insect production for livestock feed sustainable and efficient through the application of selective breeding.

FLYgene is focused on supporting Black soldier fly (BSF) based insect protein production in those two countries, located in Eastern Africa. 

The Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) is funding the initiative to the tune of 12m DKK (US$1.8m) while the Center for Quantitative Genetics and Genomics (AU-QGG) at Aarhus University will manage the project, which runs from April this year up until March 2027.

Rising feed prices

The World Bank reports that Eastern Africa is one of the regions with the fastest growth in livestock production, particularly in relation to poultry and pig rearing. Despite this growth, feed prices are rising and driving many farmers out of business. A viable feed protein alternative could alleviate some of those cost concerns. 

Dutch insect producer, Protix, reported earlier this month how a joint project​ between it and partner, Hendrix Genetics, is the first to show that BSF genetically selected for increased larval weight perform better than standard BSF larvae in a large-scale production setting.

Breeding BSF in Kenya and Uganda is already a growing business, but it is still a nascent sector, and relies heavily on larvae captured in the wild, according to the FLYgene project coordinators. They hope the initiative will make BSF producers more aware of the benefits of using genetically improved larvae stock to improve productivity and efficiency.

BSF traits

The project involves a multidisciplinary team of entomologists, geneticists, bioinformaticians, electronic and computer engineers, and nutritionists.

Some of the key goals for the initiative include the identification and prioritization of economically important BSF traits in both commercial and smallholder production systems in Kenya and Uganda.

“By developing innovative, large-scale phenotyping and rapid BSF family identification systems, as well as genomic tools for genetic, marker-based monitoring of the genetic diversity and tracing of pedigrees, we will be able to design BSF breeding programs focusing on both large-scale producers and smallholder farms as multipliers and producers,’​ said QGG assistant professor, Grum Gebreyesus.

PhD research

The FLYgene team also want to enhance insect breeding research capabilities in Kenya and Uganda:

“More precisely, four PhD students and four Master students will be enrolled in local universities in Kenya and Uganda, co-supervised by researchers from QGG, with a research stay of at least one year at Aarhus University, while three research assistants will be employed in Kenya and Uganda,” ​said Goutam Sahana, project coordinator and senior researcher, QGG.

Technical training of farmers and researchers in both countries is another objective, he added.

FLYgene looks to address many of the UN SDGs including poverty alleviation (SDG1), food security (SDG2), gender equality (SDG5), decent work and economic growth (SDG8), sustainable consumption and production patterns (SDG12), climate action (SDG13), quality education (PhD training; SDG4), and the establishment of partnerships (SGD17).

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