Insect Integrated Agriculture: Boosting sustainability and profits through total crop utilisation
Demonstrating the co-cropping of pumpkins and black soldier fly larvae in Lutzville for seed, food and feed production on a commercial scale
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Apieshof Boerdery (Pty) Ltd
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Farmer Co-op or Farmer Business Organization
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
There are no formal partnerships established yet as I only found out about the Food Vision Prize a week ago, but organisations who I intend to approach and am confident will support the idea are:
Lutzville Farmers Association ( Potential seed and insect producers )
AgriProtein Technologies ( Insect breeding and rearing )
Specialised Aquatic Feeds ( Insect product off-takers for animal feed )
Gourmet Grubb ( Insect product off-takers for human food )
Agricultural Research Council (Academic partner)
Industrial Development Corporation ( Institutional Partner)
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
What country is your selected Place located in?
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
I grew up here. My family has been farming in Lutzville for three generations and I will probably be the fourth. It is a small, unpretentious community of farmers and farm workers who works hard to make an honest living.
My intention was initially to go and farm straight after high school, but people were still nervous about the new political changes in our country at the time so my dad wanted me to get a non-agricultural qualification as a backup plan first. My parents did not have any money to support me with any tertiary education and I could not get a study loan, so I went to the military instead.
Fast forward a couple of years and I ended up living in Cape Town as one of the founding team members of one of the worlds leading insect mass rearing companies, called AgriProtein. I still work for AgriProtein on a part-time basis but am yearning to get back to my roots and give my own family a taste of the simple life I enjoyed as a child.
Lutzville has its issues, but it was an amazing place to grow up and I would love to give back to the community which played such an enormous part in making me who I am today.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Lutzville is situated 350km from Cape Town which is one of the most iconic city's in the world, yet the difference could not be more stark.
Lutzville is surrounded by a dry semi-desert landscape, often windy and very hot - up to 42 degrees Celsius at the hight of summer. Traditionally, people only reared sheep in the area and otherwise lived off of the sea which is about 15km away.
What makes Lutzville unique though is that it is situated at the end of the the Olifants river valley which is an enigma in itself. Having its rain catchment area in the Cape mountains means there is enough water to supply the Clanwilliam dam which in turn supplies the Olifants river irrigation scheme.
As the river snakes through the valley, there is a vein of green (about 5km from side to side) that goes with it as farmers have cultivated the land with oranges, grapes, beans and tomatoes being the main crops.
Farms in the area are relatively small at an average of about 40 hectares and apart from a few large-scale commercial farmers, most people are considered small-scale. The language spoken in the area is almost exclusively Afrikaans although most people will understand when spoken to in English.
Unfortunately the ghost of South Africa’s political past haunts Lutzville as much as any other place in South Africa with a massive divide existing between the haves and the have-nots. Farms in the area are owned mostly by white farmers while labour is done by “coloured” people. The spacial demographics is slowly starting to change with a big land restitution project implemented by the government at Ebenhezer, a community close by, but there is much to be done in this area still to reduce inequality.
Poverty is rife in the area with many people only existing on social grants for a living as work is often seasonal and not very well paid. People of all classes eat mainly meat, vegetables and bread for their daily sustenance and although people are poor they generally do not suffer from chronic hunger as is the case in other areas of the country.
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
The specific food challenge we feel the most excited about addressing is to challenge the currently prevalent mono-agricultural approach: The notion that crops are grown for, and farms exist only, for a single product output.
This kind of thinking exists throughout the food system, where intensification always results in further specialisation of crop and land in order to increase yield and bring production costs down. High-performance crop cultivars are planted for maximum productivity, measured against the part of the plant that the farmer gets paid for. The waste generated in the process, impacts on soil health, or overall resource efficiency never gets calculated or appreciated fully.
In our chosen industry - pumpkin seed production - this notion of a single purpose, linear approach to farming is specifically pronounced. Pumpkins are grown in large fields and the seed harvested by crushing the pumpkins in the field to remove the seeds while the rest is discarded. Some of the nutrients do go back into the soil but leaving pumpkins to rot in the field after spending so much resources to produce them, simply does not make any sense.
Unfortunately for the farmers, there is always a price to pay - without even mentioning the environmental costs. Firstly, being single product or commodity producers they are exposed in the event of crop failures or low prices, which are equally devastating.
Secondly, waste gets generated at their cost, so it really hurts their own bottom line to throw away up to 10% of the fruit they do harvest or the other 90% of the plant they do not use.
The good news for pumpkin seed farmers is that there is a general global trend toward more plant based diets. The politically influential global “Planetary health” dietary guidelines created by the EAT-Lancet commission seeks to balance the needs of feeding 9-billion people with their health as well as the well-being of the environment; and clearly states that pulses, nuts and seeds should replace most of the meat we eat.
It is therefore expected that demand for pumpkin seeds will continue to grow, but the industry has to find a way of becoming more sustainable. Customers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and are demanding to know where their food comes from and how it has been grown. Technology now allows people to track produce from farm-to-fork, calculate its carbon footprint and communicate that directly to the customer.
In order for the industry to remain competitive and profitable, they have to embrace the idea of a more circular approach to farming, aiming for total plant utilisation rather than using and monetising only a small part of it.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
As an antidote to intensive monoculture of the modern farming supply chain we propose Integrated Insect Agriculture as a more suitable alternative.
In his recent paper: “Livestock based Integrated Farming systems for livelihood improvement of small and marginal farmers” Sanjiv Kumar of the Indian Council of Agricultural research explains: “Livestock based integrated farming systems provide an opportunity for increasing economic yield per unit area, per unit time, for small and marginal farmers. In this system, waste materials are effectively recycled by linking appropriate components. Thus minimising environmental pollution. Recycling of product, byproducts and waste material in an integrated farming system are the factors responsible for the sustainability of farming system.”
Integrated farming is not a new solution, and we unfortunately do not have the space to delve into its merits any deeper, but what makes our vision unique are four things:
- We are developing a model of Integrated farming using insects as the preferred type of livestock.
- We are applying integrated farming techniques to the pumpkin seed industry to increase farmer sustainability and profitability.
- We are promoting the development of “dual-purpose” variety crops bred to not only maximise yield in terms of tons per hectare of fruit, but in both fruit and insect yields
- We will implement local and promote global.
It is our goal to set up the worlds first Insect Integrated Pumpkin Seed Farm (IIPS) in Lutzville by growing pumpkins for seed and growing black soldier fly larvae (BSF) on what is currently considered waste.
We will set up a BSF breeding facility which grows the eggs as well as a processing facility to wash, grade and package the pumpkin seeds. Farmers will be contracted to grow both pumpkin seeds and sun-dried BSF for us at a predetermined price.
Our growers will harvest the pumpkin seeds on the farm and bring it to our processing facility while collecting BSF eggs to take back to the farm where it will be placed on the pumpkin residues.
After about two weeks the larvae would have consumed most of the waste and will be ready for harvest. Larvae is separated mechanically from the substrate before being blanched and in hot water which kills and cleans them. The dead larvae is then lightly salted and placed on nets (the same one’s they use for drying raisins) and dried in the sun before bagging. The residue is returned to the soil as compost.
Both pumpkin seeds and larvae will be marketed to wholesale buyers as well as under our own Apieshof brand.
Insect Integrated Agriculture has the potential to transform the global pumpkin seed industry (and others) by making it more resource efficient which improves sustainability, consumer sentiment as well as farmer profitability. A win-win for all.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
By the year 2050 the Lutzville Seed and Entoculture Farmers Association will be well established and the pride of the town. We will have hundreds of farmers, large and small producing pumpkin seed and sun-dried larvae for us. Annual pumpkin seed production for the area is 2000 tons with 16000 tons of sun-dried BSF larvae.
Our products are exported all over the world and we have been featured as one of Time Magazine's most ingenious companies in the world and we have been selected as one of the World Wildlife Fund's climate solvers.
We have many international visitors and students who are studying our Insect Integrated Agricultural model to see how it can be applied to other combinations of crops and insect species. We are working with pumpkin seed growers in other parts of the world to convert their mono seed farming operations into insect integrated one's through our young farmer exchange programme.
Our activities have created over 300 direct new jobs in Lutzville while our growers generate new business for many of the agricultural support industries as well as others, like hospitality and tourism.
Our support for previously disadvantaged farmers is starting to bare fruit with a number of financially successful "coloured" farmers working side by side with their white counterparts. Inspiring others to follow in their footsteps.
Although most of the BSF larvae produced goes to animal feed, insect consumption in Lutzville is commonplace with the smoked chilli larvae-bombs being a firm favourite.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Our vision for Insect Integrated Agriculture goes beyond feeding waste to insects (which is already a massive improvement on the status quo) and ultimately aims to challenge the way the world thinks about food production. Multi-purpose crops and varieties should be promoted over single specialised ones to promote circular rather than linear farming practices.
Insect Integrated Agriculture provides us with a way of eliminating waste, increasing farmer income and reducing farmer risk through diversification that will hopefully spark much more interest in the sector and the insect co-production concept. It will not work for all crops in all circumstances of course, but there is huge opportunity for those who are willing to dig a little bit deeper. Whole plant utilisation should become the mantra with entoculture (if there is such a word) leading the charge.
Imagine developing a variety of rice of which the husks are more palatable for grasshoppers or an orange variety with more fibre to make crickets grow better on the pulp after juice extraction. Palm oil producers develop new methods of managing palm plantations that allows them to utilise their crop for both oil and palm weevil production.
It is our hope that by 2050 the global pumpkin seed industry has embraced the Integrated Insect Agricultural concept pioneered in Lutzville and has transformed itself from a climate villain into a climate hero, making more money from BSF larvae than the pumpkin seeds themselves. It is our vision to also inspire a broader movement of people experimenting with the concept in their own setting with new and exciting insect/crop combinations.
With specific reference to the themes of Environment, Diets, Economics, Culture, Technology, and Policy as applicable to Lutzville the future we would like to inspire is as follows:
Due to the impact of climate change the Lutzville area has become too hot and dry to produce tomatoes so farmers have turned to pumpkin seed farming instead. A number of certified "zero-waste farms" already exist and the movement is growing, partly due to the fact that people finally understand how our resource use impacts the planet and partly because of the high price premiums achieved from such accredited farms. Demand for insect protein is high, specifically from the aquaculture industry which cannot rely on wild caught fish anymore in the form of fishmeal as most if it is now fed to people directly.
Insects are now regularly consumed all over the world and due to the scale achieved by the industry, insect prices have dropped significantly, making it more attractive to low income consumers who can now afford a high quality protein. That said, growing insects is still a lucrative business with texturised insect protein sold as a cheaper alternative to beef, and people love it. Red meat consumption has declined sharply. And because the anti-microbial peptides found in our larvae reduces inflammation and toxicity in the human body, there has been a general increase in life-expectancy in the area.
Farmers in the area are making a good living. Demand for their products is high and the fact that they are able to export some of their produce creates a buffer to our volatile local currency. Our direct marketing approach has also paid off with the Apieshof brand of seeds a firm favourite, specifically to ethical consumers who love the fact that we produce our produce on “Zero-Waste” farms. We are able to charge a premium for our products and because we have cut out many of the middle-men, much of this profits get redistributed to our farmers. The farms are more profitable, and because of this, our small-holder farmer community has survived, unlike in other areas where small farmers cannot compete with commercial farms and ultimately go bankrupt or get bought out.
Young people want to live in the town again. With all the international visitors and attention the town has become a bit more “edgy” and with the whole insect eating thing people seem to engage with each-other more to try out new recipes and innovate to take advantage of the buzz. We have many visitors these days visiting the area, tasting our insects, and pumpkin seed and wine combinations, and they keep coming back because of the amazing friendliness and hospitality for which the town is known. Another positive development is that with all the marketing of our own health product, people in the community have become a lot more aware of what they eat, and how it impacts their health, so we have seen an improvement in people's eating habits in general.
Insect breeding is a high tech business with a high level of sophistication required which is why we do it centralised and completely automated. The growing and processing is done decentralised on the farms with relatively low technology requirements. In this modern age people are keen to jump into technological solutions for everything, but in our case, finding the right blend of technology is crucial to maintain maximum profitability. Biotechnology will play an important role for us as well in improving our fly and pumpkin strains with gene editing a possibility, depending on how the market reacts with regards to consumer sentiment. We have figured out how to freeze eggs economically to deal with the cyclical nature of the pumpkin harvest, and in our supply chain we use the latest technology to track our produce and allow the customer to see exactly when and where the product comes from using a smartphone app.
We get a lot of support from government agencies like the Industrial Development Corporation (who helped fund our fly breeding plant) and the Western Cape Trade and Investment Agency (WESGRO) who put us in touch with international buyers and trade shows. Although there was some resistance at first, the Department of Health has included the eating of insects into its dietary guideline as a “type of meat” and has actually sponsored some research with the Medical Research Council to look at the potential of insects in boosting the immune system of people with HIV.
The six themes discussed impact on each other in either a positive or negative way. Improvements in technology will reduce production costs and will improve economics, while improved farm economics will increase investment in technology. Government health policy affects people’s diets, which in turn affects the culture that surrounds our food, and vice versa.
We are confident that our establishing the worlds first Insect Integrated Pumpkin Seed Farm (IIPS) in Lutzville will have a positive effect on the environment and the community. We believe this has the potential to spark renewed interest in sustainable agriculture and the concept of total crop utilisation as demonstrated through insect co-cropping. It is a small ripple that has the potential to cause a tsunami, but for now - we will just get on with it.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?