Talash Huijbers is the company founder, and she maintains her business strategy has shown it is possible to merge profitability and sustainability into a practical production model.
Raised on a farm in Kenya, the 27-year-old studied International Food and Agribusiness at HAS University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands.
Returning home, Huijbers’ initial plan was to get involved in tilapia farming. But when she realized how expensive fish feed was, she began looking at other business ideas, zoning in on ways to reduce the costs of feed protein components.
Having evaluted a raft of alternative feed protein sources, her research kept leading her back to BSF larvae and their ability to turn organic waste into high-value products.
“We started to investigate whether there was a market for this, whether there would be enough waste locally, how easy it would be to scale production, and whether anybody would buy the end products.”
In terms of waste volumes, there was little reason for worry. “Nairobi currently produces around 3,000 metric tons of waste daily, and the greater Nairobi area generates around 6,000 to 9,000 metric tons, depending on which regions you include. So, there is all this organic waste, and it tends to go to landfill when it could have other uses.”
Fortunately for Huijbers, she was able to take advantage of her father’s flower farm, Terrasol, in terms of accessing an initial site for the business. Now four years later, the InsectiPro team comprises 105 employees; it is also a company that priortizes diversity and the hiring of women.
As regards output, the startup currently produces between 1 and 1.5 tons of BSF meal per day, selling that directly to chicken farmers and to five local feed millers. In fact, those feed companies have been increasing pressure on the company to boost its production volumes.
Given the ongoing volatility in local soybean meal prices, the millers like the consistency of production and the stability in pricing that InsectiPro's meal offers, explained the CEO.
“We are hoping to be processing over 150 metric tons of waste a day across three different sites by the end of this year,” said Hujibers.
Highlighting the sustainability aspect of the business, in terms of that waste upcycling, she stressed how circularity is critical to the future of the global food system: “We need to look at what we are putting in and what we are taking out. We can’t just continue to take out anymore. We need to change the narrative, how people think of food, how people think of soil, and how people think of animal production.”
And it is not that everybody needs to be vegetarian or vegan to make this food system work, she said. It is more about ensuring conversations are taking place across the food value chain with the goal of reducing waste production and pollution as well as lowering the pressure on natural resources, argues Hujibers.
The work the young innovator has been doing is gaining international recognition, with the company securing a grant of $2,206,256 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in August 2021. “And we are currently working on our Series A.”
Tailoring production to local conditions
For the entrepreneur, one of her key objectives is building a production model that is context specific, a system that works for Africa, one that matches the local climate, and environment. “You can't build something that is too electricity heavy here, for example, because our grid is not reliable, and diesel is very expensive.”
Most of the production equipment InsectiPro relies on has been made in Kenya. “A lot of our machinery is locally built, and that means it can also be locally serviced.”
New lines to enable the company to supply defatted BSF meal should be installed in the coming months. The CEO wants that process to be solvent free to avoid the challenges of chemical disposal.
The larvae growing step within InsectiPro's business model is decentralized, with production units set up at partner sites including waste generators or feed producers. Egg production is fully controlled, centrally. Hygiene, quality control and compliance teams ensure microbial safety, added the founder.
The rearing substrates used in InsectiPro's process correspond with EU insect production norms. “Technically, in Kenya, there are no restrictions, but we keep our insects vegetarian, for now, to adhere to current EU regulation."
However, the company carried out trials using slaughterhouse waste, and saw "amazing results", with similar findings in relation to using fish waste as feedstocks.
InsectiPro has also been evaluating its BSF meal in feed inclusion trials in conjunction with Nutreco and Unga, two of its partners in the East Africa focused project, The FeedTech Impact Cluster.
That initiative comprises leading Dutch and Kenyan entities active in various areas of the East African feed value chain. The consortium conducts studies, performs feed trials, demonstrates best feed production and usage practices to feed millers and farmers. The idea is that by working together, knowledge and expertise are shared.