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Urban protein production: a means to combat malnutrition, improve livelihoods, enhance soil fertility and protect natural resources.

Innovating insect farming and processing techniques to produce low carbon protein and fertilizer while reducing pressure on forested biomes.

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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Farms for Orphans, Inc.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

University of Kinshasa - Research Institution; Congolese Ministry of Health - Government; Centre D’etude et D’appui Technique aux Initiatives Locales de Développement - Small NGO (under 50 employees); Association des Femmes D’Affaires du Congo (AFAC) - Farmer Co-op

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.farmsfororphans.org

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Loveland

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), covering an area of 9,966 km^2.

What country is your selected Place located in?

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo first left a deep and indelible mark on me in the summer of 2011, when I worked in eastern DR Congo with the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project. I was utterly enchanted by the beauty, wildness and abundant biodiversity of the Congo Basin - and equally saddened by the extreme poverty in which the Congolese people lived. It was inconceivable that in a country so rich in natural resources that the majority of the population lives in poverty. 

Having already started the process of adoption to grow our family, my husband and I made the decision to adopt from the DRC. I’ll never forget the first photographs we received of our children: tear streaked faces and large, bloated bellies. Our hearts broke. Malnutrition had taken a toll on their health. When we brought our children home from Kinshasa, they were so small for their ages, they did not register on US growth charts. With good nutrition, however, our son grew seven inches and our daughter grew five inches their first-year home. Today they are happy, healthy and so full of potential. 

Bill Gates said, "Malnutrition destroys the most human potential on the planet."  We realized this truth in watching our children transform, and we believe such transformations are possible for the millions of orphans and vulnerable youth who remain in the DRC. My children inspired me to found Farms for Orphans to help these youth get the nutrition they need to live healthy, productive lives. We have found that people of the DRC, including the youth, are ready to learn new strategies to overcome the shortages and lack that have held back so many lives. The natural wealth of the DRC includes its human potential, which is vast. Farms for Orphans is ready to provide scalable solutions to meet critical needs among the country’s most deserving populations.

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.

Kinshasa is the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the third largest city in Africa after Lagos and Cairo. Kinshasa lies about 20 miles from the Atlantic Ocean on the south bank of the Congo River. 

Industrial, residential, and commercial zones make up the developed areas of the city. The poorer areas and slums are vast, extending southward on the east and west of the city. 

French is the national language, but four indigenous languages, Kikongo, Lingala, Tshiluba and Swahili are also commonly spoken. More than half of Kinshasa’s 13 million inhabitants, known as Kinois, are under 22 years of age and a small proportion of the population is over 50. Life expectancy for Kinois is estimated at a mere 48 years. 

Tens of thousands of DR Congo’s 5 million orphans live within orphanages or on the streets of Kinshasa. Congolese street children, referred to as “shegues” number 25-50 thousand in Kinshasa alone. Orphaned or abandoned for myriad reasons including conflict, disease and poverty, these children are often ill-treated by the authorities and the general population alike. 

Years of corrupt leadership followed by civil war and a long series of conflicts have scarred the city. Basic services such as running water, electricity, and sanitation are grossly inadequate or absent altogether in many parts of the city. Public transportation consists of overcrowded buses, minibuses, taxis, and large trucks adapted to carry passengers. Medical facilities are few and unevenly distributed, thus limiting public health care. The education system is overextended, lacking facilities and teachers. Kinshasa’s inhabitants spend a considerable amount of their time struggling to find necessities that are in erratic supply. 

Cassava (leaves and tubers), fufu (a dough-like staple made from cassava flour), rice, plantain and potatoes are staple foods eaten by the majority of Kinois. Though vegetarianism isn’t intentionally practiced, most meals are eaten without meat due to its high price. When in season, wild harvested foods including wild plants, fruits, mushrooms, honey, bushmeat and fish are gathered or hunted. Edible insects such as termites, crickets, beetle larvae and caterpillars are other, seasonally available source of protein. Considered a delicacy, insect protein sold in Kinshasa’s markets is two-to-three times more expensive than other proteins such as goat and chicken. The FAO estimates that Congolese consume 14,000 tons of insects annually.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

9966

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

13000000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

2020: Food-insecurity is pervasive across the DRC and closely tied to poverty. The estimated daily energy consumption is less than 1,500 kcal/person. Only 9.3% of the population consume a minimum acceptable diet. Rates of malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies are high. Not surprising, malnutrition is a major impediment to the country’s socioeconomic development; the cost of child malnutrition in the DR Congo is estimated at over $1 billion USD/year. 

Sadly, Kinois most affected by food insecurity are orphaned and street children, who do not benefit from adult protection as do their non-orphaned peers. Malnutrition rates for these youth are tremendous. Studies of street children in sub-Saharan Africa have reported 83% were wasted/stunted and 78% were anemic. Moreover, these children often lack educational opportunities and economic prospects that could open pathways out of poverty and into greater food security and improved health. 

Kinshasa’s huge population has created serious challenges in supplying the city with food. Half of the food consumed in the city is supplied by neighboring Bas-Congo Province. Other foods come from more distant areas of the country or are imported and therefore too expensive for the average city dweller to afford. Among the poor, people keep gardens where they can find suitable soil. Overcultivation of the surrounding countryside has caused extensive soil erosion. The majority of Kinois rely on non-fortified staple foods, such as cassava, which is drought resistance and can grow in marginal soils. Although a good source of energy (38% carbohydrates), cassava is lacking in sufficient amounts of fat, protein and micronutrients to meet the full spectrum of nutritional needs in the population. 

The DRC is on the front line of climate change, suffering from higher temperatures, unreliable rains and lower crop yields. Climate change is affecting food production in distant provinces that supply the city with food. 

2050: Overpopulation in Kinshasa will further strain local and regional resources. The continued overcultivation and environmental degradation of the surrounding countryside could result in a complete loss of agricultural productivity in these areas. 

As the city’s demand for food increases, pressure on the Congo Basin will undoubtedly increase. DRC is home to 60% of the Congo Basin’s tropical rainforest. The Basin is a huge carbon sink, trapping carbon that could otherwise become CO2, the main cause of global warming. If the land is converted to agriculture (as is already happening), then vast quantities of CO2 will be emitted, intensifying climate change. Scientists have revealed that, without adequate technological and behavioral interventions over the next three decades, increasing levels of CO2 and the resultant climate change effect will not only reduce crop yields, but also reduce the availability of crucial crop nutrients like iron, protein and zinc - i.e. those already lacking in the typical Congolese diet.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

In order to feed its population while limiting environmental degradation, Kinshasa must begin to produce its own climate-smart food. Our vision is to empower the most vulnerable in Kinshasa to grow delicious, nutritious, affordable, low-carbon food for themselves and their communities.

Given the low nutritional value of staple foods like cassava and the high rates of stunting, micronutrient deficiencies and anemia in the population, particularly in children, the production of protein and micronutrient-rich foods is of utmost importance. Edible insects are a culturally accepted food that are high in protein, fats and micronutrients. For example, palm weevil larvae contain 26.7g protein, 9.5mg iron, and 22mg zinc per 100g serving. The most widely eaten insect species are currently wild-harvested, seasonally available and expensive, though many can be farmed quite simply. The land requirement to farm these species is minimal, as they can be raised using a vertical farming system, and insects’ feed and water needs are considerably lower than those of traditional livestock. Insect farming produces virtually no greenhouse gases; in contrast, the livestock sector is responsible for 15% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire transportation sector. Edible insect farming offers a high-quality protein and micronutrient source that is environmentally responsible and feasible in an urban setting.

Useful byproducts of insect farming are manure, called frass, and insect exoskeletons. Together, these byproducts form an organic compost and can be used as an excellent soil amendment and fertilizer. Insect byproducts can improve soil health, allowing urban gardeners who produce food for family consumption to diversify their crops and increase yields.

An insect farm can be established and maintained with minimal investment and technology, making insect farming an activity anyone can pursue, including the poor and disenfranchised. Farms for Orphans believes that in order to uplift communities, the needs of the most vulnerable need to be met first. Training orphanage staff, older orphans aging out of the system, and other vulnerable youth and young adults to farm insects will 1) add much needed protein and micronutrients to their diet, 2) provide economic autonomy through the sale of insect protein and insect by-products such as frass fertilizer, and 3) provide marketable skills that they may share with others.

Growing a climate-smart protein within the confines of the Kinshasa’s limits can reduce the city’s reliance on the surrounding land and provinces for food. And, when food-security is achieved, pressure to clear land for agriculture use will be decreased, preserving natural resources, biodiversity, and a globally-important, climate-regulating carbon sink.

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.

In 2050, investment in Farms for Orphans has facilitated the expansion of the organization’s training and research farm, the development of five satellite farms at strategic locations within Kinshasa, and the training of ninety orphanages and other institutions serving youth in sustainable edible insect farming. The combined efforts of these farming activities provide high-quality protein to over 25,000 orphaned vulnerable youth annually. Surplus insects farmed by these organizations are sold to the public, providing a source of revenue that sustains the farms and expanding the reach of the farms into the community. Sixty cohorts of youth farmers have also gained skills in sustainable insect farming practices, and numerous youth farm training graduates have become entrepreneurs, supplying urban markets with fresh, local sources of protein and related products.  

The effects of these changes have rippled through Kinshasa and the greater DRC. Demand for insect protein has increased and prices fetched for insects at market have decreased – this latter decrease has reinforced their appeal. More Kinois are regularly eating farmed insects, sustaining the market and driving broader investment in edible insect farming practices in the private sector. And, pressure on wild edible insect populations from over-harvesting is significantly decreased.

More people are farming small plots of land within the city. The use of frass has regenerated the city's soils and urban gardeners are growing a variety of vegetables. Many urban gardeners are producing enough to sell for supplemental income.  

The health and wellbeing of the population of Kinshasa, and in particular the youth served by these programs, has improved dramatically. Protein-energy malnutrition and iron deficiency anemia has been reduced by half. Wasting and stunting are decreased by three-quarters. Children are growing into healthy, resilient, productive adults, capable of facing the challenges life presents them.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

With a 2020 population of 78.7 million, DRC is projected to be the eighth most populous country in the world by 2050, when the population is expected to swell to 216 million. Currently, half the population is under 15 (46%), and 43% live in urban areas. Existing rates of malnutrition, micronutrient deficiency, and stunting in the DRC are one of the highest in the world and have many adverse impacts on child survival and long-term well-being. In recent years, the food security situation has further deteriorated: in 2017, an estimated 7.7 million people were experiencing acute food insecurity, and nearly 2 million children were suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM), which accounts for 12% of SAM cases in the world. The need for sufficient and efficient food systems in the DRC is great and only expected to increase.

At the same time, in 2020, the livestock sector is the second-largest contributor to man-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, uses 30% of the earth’s land surface, and accounts for 30% of humanity’s freshwater footprint. According to the World Economic Forum, it would be impossible for future populations to eat the amount of meat typical of diets in North America and Europe and meet agreed-upon sustainable development goals (SDGs) for the environment and climate: it would require too much land and water and lead to unacceptable emissions of GHGs and other pollutants, such as ammonia.

In light of these concerns, alternative proteins such as fungi‐derived protein (mycoprotein), lab grown meat, algae and insects are of increasing interest to the western world. Of these, insect protein is already a desirable commodity for over two billion people globally, though production in many regions has yet to be optimized - or even attempted. Currently, edible insects are wild-harvested throughout most of Africa. Palm weevil larvae collectors, for example, frequently slash large swaths of sensitive Raffia palm habitat in the Congo Basin, as the decaying Raffia tissue attracts breeding palm weevil beetles, which lay their eggs in the damaged trees; larvae are then harvested several weeks later. Wild-harvesting insects has led to population reductions of popular edible species, the destruction of threatened ecosystems, and a driving up of prices. Nonetheless, farmers in Southeast Asian countries have already been highly successful in farming edible insect species such as crickets and palm weevil larvae. The simple technologies pioneered for effective edible insect production are easily translated to other locales, including the DRC, setting the scene for a broad expansion of capacity and protein production on the African continent by 2050.

In 2020, Farms for Orphans is refining its African palm weevil farming initiative and planning to develop techniques for farming Congo’s native edible cricket. Production of insect proteins opens a pathway to meeting the nutritional needs of a predicted 2050 population in a healthy, culturally appropriate, and renewable way. Our vision is that, by 2050, these efforts will have yielded tremendous results: FFO has advanced methods and technologies related to insect farming, post-harvest processing, and the distribution of farm products and byproducts. Palm weevil larvae farming operations have been honed, and farming and processing methods for several other edible insect species have been established. FFO has fully expanded its central research and training farm, brought five additional training and production farms online at strategic locations around Kinshasa, and trained dozens of organizations serving orphaned and vulnerable youth. These efforts directly provide edible insects to upwards of 25,000 youth annually.

FFO also continues to work to empower older, teen youth – and in particular, older girls – to take the lead in Kinshasa’s insect farming revolution by providing them with insect farm training, farming resources, and space to farm and sell their insects products. Between these youth farmers (many of whom become adult insect farming entrepreneurs) and the institutions trained by FFO (many of which sell surplus insects to their broader communities) the city’s general population is regularly supplied with a favored, local protein.

The interconnectedness of Kinshasa’s food system means that positive change launched by FFO has helped to drive change across the city. Peripheral stakeholders have recognized the feasibility of insect farming, as modeled by FFO, and the higher demand for edible insects driven by FFO-trained farmers. Markets have emerged around the production and sale of farming-related materials and prepared insect foods. Insect farmers sell farming byproducts, such as organic fertilizers and soil amendments, as a rich compost to gardeners. Insect farming enterprises have partnered with local businesses to use food waste for insect substrate and feed, decreasing the city’s waste; for example, spent grains from Kinshasa’s brewery are used to feed and rear crickets. Processing technologies for multiple edible insect species have been developed by local universities and the private sector. Not only does the wider population of Kinshasa have improved access to local, fresh insects, but also to insect-based products such as flour as well as canned, frozen and dehydrated insect foodstuffs.

The expansion of insect farming seen in 2050 has buffered the impacts of climate change on protein production in the DRC, creating a more resilient food system. FFO-trained insect farmers produce protein using 2,000 times less land (0.0125 acres for insect protein versus 25 acres for livestock protein), 13 times less feed, and 2,000 times less water than would be required to farm equivalent amounts of traditional protein - all while releasing negligible amounts of GHGs into the atmosphere. More protein grown within city limits has significantly reduced pressure to harvest insects from the wild and to convert Congo’s unique forested ecosystem for livestock production, helping to preserve a valuable global carbon sink. Less protein raised or collected in remote provinces must be transported into Kinshasa for sale. In addition, amendment with insect farm byproducts increasingly regenerates the land within Kinshasa, and formerly poor-quality soils, where nothing could be grown, are now producing food for urban farmers. Insect farming and improved urban gardening have injected affordable, reliable, and renewable sources of protein and micronutrients into the urban food system.

Historically, malnutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and stunting have had far-reaching impacts on human capital, economic productivity, and national development in the DRC. Due to FFO’s widespread, long-term efforts, nutritional needs of the city’s orphaned and street youth are increasingly met, reducing the prevalence of protein-energy malnutrition and iron deficiency anemia in this population. These youth exhibit dramatic improvements in nutritional outcomes, growth, and educational attainment. With greater access to high-quality protein and nutrients, the general public, too, enjoys significantly reduced rates of malnutrition and is healthier and more productive. Annual losses formerly incurred through high healthcare costs, hunger-caused burdens on the education system, and reduced workforce productivity have steadily decreased year after year. Kinshasa is reaping a demographic dividend from a young, healthy, skilled workforce. By 2050, the insect agriculture sector has helped improve the country’s health and economy, creating more robust, resilient and equitable systems.

Governmental interest in FFO’s insect farming operations, already significant in 2020, has expanded by 2050. FFO’s experts advise on policy efforts at regional and national levels. Governmental ministries have worked to pass food safety regulations in the insect farming sector, and insects are included as a healthy protein in the country’s nutritional guidelines. On the international front, the DRC’s government promoted FFO’s activities to help meet goals formed under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: Although in 2020 the DRC ranked 155th out of 157 countries in progress in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, by 2030 (the last year of measurement), FFO’s insect farming intervention had contributed to the advancement of SDG Goal 1 (No Poverty), Goal 2 (Zero Hunger), Goal 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing), Goal 5 (Gender Equality), Goal 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), Goal 13 (Climate Action), and Goal 15 (Sustainable use of Terrestrial Ecosystems). In 2050, insect agriculture in Kinshasa enjoys broad governmental  and policy support.

Beyond its city limits, Kinshasa’s model of urban protein production has sparked great interest in regions and countries where insect consumption is the norm. In collaboration with our partners at the Congolese Ministry of Health, Farms for Orphans has designed online insect farming training modules to train youth in the DR Congo’s most remote communities. Kinshasa has become Central Africa’s hub for insect farming innovation, research, and training, further boosting the country’s economy and facilitating a general increase in insect consumption across sub-Saharan Africa – a win for people and food systems across the continent. Moreover, the production of climate-smart proteins, such as insects, has attracted the attention of the western world. Insects have become mainstream in American and European diets.

In 2050, all Kinois enjoy the Congolese culinary tradition of eating insects, and they pass their love for this delight on to their children. They take great pride in sharing their cultural practice of eating insects with others, demonstrating how sustainable insect farming can be, and being at the forefront of this global trend. Most of all, Kinois have deep satisfaction in having the ability to feed their families and their communities with a healthy, locally grown, native food.

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