Hungry? Get your protein from maggots, says an SA start-up

If you’re feeling a little thirsty or hungry right now, then read on and you may want to forego your dinner. A start-up business located in Stellenbosch is planning to produce protein powder from maggots that can be used in food products and sports drinks.

Yes, they are deadly serious. And no, they’re not all crackpots. The key players in the venture, called Susento, are all academics at Stellenbosch University and the university itself is a shareholder.

Susento – the name is an abbreviation for ‘sustainability through entomology’ – is now seeking investor funding of R12-million to enable it to establish a factory in the Eastern Cape that can scale up the business to produce around 30 tonnes of product a month.

The business already produces around three tonnes each month at the university’s Mariendahl experimental farm outside Stellenbosch. This is used mainly in pet food.

Why maggots and what’s the benefit?

The quest is to develop and produce a sustainable protein source from insects for both human and animal consumption. The larvae (maggots) are from the black soldier fly, a very passive insect that does not fly but spends much time in the shade. It is not harmful and does not transmit any diseases.

Susento will be rearing its black soldier flies on feed-grade agricultural byproducts such as spent grain from the brewing industry and fruit pulp from the juicing industry.

The powder that comes from the larvae is high in protein and doesn’t really have a taste or smell to it. It could therefore be used in both savoury and sweet food such as chocolate, Dr Elsje Pieterse, a lecturer in the Department of Animal Sciences at the university, told Reuters in an interview.

The protein is high quality and a one-hectare insect farm can produce 7 500 times more protein product than a soy farm of the same size, according to Pieterse.

Sustainable food with environmental benefits

The long-term benefit of using mass-reared insects to produce protein for consumption is that much of the world’s current protein is not being produced in a sustainable way and will therefore not be able to meet the expected 70% increase in demand by 2050.

The demand will come from a world population which is growing at an alarming rate and will reach around 9-billion people by 2050.

“One cannot help to wonder: where will our food come from?” asks Susento on its website.

It then answers its own question: “From insects. It is not too far-fetched, given the fact that insects grow at a very fast rate and that the edible insect market is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 23.8% [between] 2018 and 2023.”



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