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Kulisha: Food Waste into Fish Feed via Insects

Kulisha uses farmers' food waste as an input to grow insects that are then processed into a feed to support fish farmers.

Photo of Viraj Sikand
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Aquaculture is booming throughout the world and is increasingly being seen as a healthy and sustainable source of protein to feed a growing population.In 2012, farmed fish production overtook beef production, and the world now consumes more fish from farms than fish caught in the open sea. The problem with fish farming as it is currently practiced, however, is that the feed used on aquaculture farms is made from wild-caughtfish like anchovies and sardines. The process of catching these fish depletes already-overfished fisheries, ravages marine ecosystems, and harms rural fishing communities. We're feeding wild fish to farmed fish and it doesn't make senseenvironmentally or economically

The same is true in Kenya, where farmed fish production nearly quintupled between 2009 and 2012. Despite this growth, the challenge persists of providing fish farmers access to reasonably priced, high-quality feed. The current solutions available to fish farmers in Kenya are either unaffordable, unsustainable, inadequate, or a combination of all three. One solution? Replace the fish protein with insect protein, and reduce food waste in the process. We're growing black soldier fly larvae, an incredible type of insect that consumes all sorts of organic material from spent grains from breweries to fruit and vegetable scraps from kitchens, markets, and farms. In addition, black soldier flies

  • are not vectors for disease 
  • are native to Kenya
  • result in no change to fish taste 
  • require very little land and water to raise 

We partner with farms and businesses to collect their waste, then turn it into a nutritious, high-protein insect meal ready to be incorporated into fish feed pellets.

Here at Kulisha, named after the Swahili verb meaning "to feed," we believe in closed loop economies that are not at odds with the wellbeing of people and the planet. We seek to address a significantly underserved market segment in the aquaculture industry, support economic development and growth in underdeveloped countries, and have a meaningful positive impact on the environment. 

The inspiration for this project came from my own work in Msambweni, Kenya, a small fishing village on the coast. Though I'm from Nairobi, I spent four months living and working in Msambweni on increasing local support for a marine protected area. It was here that I learned that vessels were ravaging coral reefs in order to catch anchovies and sardines which are then taken inland, ground up into fishmeal, and fed to higher-value farmed fish—and thus the idea for Kulisha was born.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

We've already begun piloting on the ground in Kenya and are currently running a small greenhouse growing insects. We're only using agricultural waste products from one source, however, and would like to partner with more actors in the agricultural sector to expand our scope and increase our impact. Another next step is to finalize and test our product with a fish farm. We've already partnered with a large hatchery, and plan to begin trials in January of 2017.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

We would love to know more about waste management! How do farmers deal with excess produce? How is agricultural waste transported? Can it be pumped? Can it be homogenized? Under what conditions do the nutrients and proteins denature? Is refrigeration the only way to prevent mold and bacterial growth? Does anyone have experience with fermentation?

Tell us about your work experience:

I'm currently studying Environmental Science and all of my work incorporates principles of sustainability and sustainable development. As a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar and a Social Innovation Fellow, I'm passionate about both conservation and social entrepreneurship, and want to integrate the two in this project. My team complements my experience and includes students in business, mechanical engineering, and natural resource management.

This idea emerged from

  • A student collaboration

How far along is your idea?

  • It’s on the ground creating impact – it’s existed for over 1 year


Join the conversation:

Photo of Nicholas Sylvester


This is a very interesting idea. Insect protein is vastly underutilised, and the advantages of using such indiscriminate feeders are very apparent.

Does this type of fly larva only feed on vegetable matter? Or are meat cuttings or a grease substrate also viable foodstock for the larvae?

As for the waste management issues, a key way to handle rot and mould is to dehydrate the plant material. Some simple processing of the intended feed for your insects can go a long way towards blunting the worst of it. This is far from the only way, of course, and a lot depends on your plans for storage, how quickly you expect to go through material, and what the conditions for the insect habitats will be.

Another idea to look into is working with consumer-facing businesses as well, and not just the suppliers. A considerable quantity of food waste comes from places like markets, grocers, and restaurants. Food scraps and unsold vegetables can likely be acquired for little to no cost, being essentially ‘garbage’ anyway.

I look forward to seeing how this idea grows and progresses, and hope to continue to contribute as things progress.

Nicholas Sylvester

Photo of Viraj Sikand

Hey Nicholas!

Thanks so much for your comments and suggestions! Black soldier fly larvae eat a wide variety of organic wastes, from all sorts of food production byproducts (including meat and grease - but not bones), to animal waste like chicken manure. We certainly are looking into post-consumer waste but have had issues with sorting and homogeneity/consistency. In the long run, however, it does seem like that will be imperative.

Great suggestion about dehydration - our main concern would be that it is too energy-intensive to then have to rehydrate before feeding it to the insects (they require some baseline moisture content in order to digest the feedstock.) Do you know much about dehydration techniques, maybe using passive solar to cut down energy costs? 


Photo of Kate Rushton

This is a very interesting idea, Viraj! You could always experiment and build you own solar food dehydrator -

I imagine that producing dried worms will increase the number of fisheries you can supply and allow them to buy more worms in bulk. But, I don't know very much about fisheries. 

Is there any specific legislation/regulations you would need to comply with in terms of the use of the waste and the use of the worms as feed?

Photo of Nicholas Sylvester

Hello Viraj,

Thank you for your response. Since I last commented, I’ve been looking into black soldier fly cultivation. If your main concern is mould growth, and you expect to have more vegetable matter than your larvae can process quickly, you might consider using salt and citrus to treat your substrate. Neither of these substances are harmful to the larvae, and the mixture is effective at inhibiting mould growth. Depending on the agricultural wastes that you’re using, though, excess cellulose might be an issue for your larvae. Black soldier fly larvae can eventually process cellulose-rich substrates, but they do need to decompose somewhat first. It’s something that’s easy to overlook, given how efficient the larvae are otherwise.

As for the dehydration, you mentioned that this project was taking place in Kenya, so I presume that you have a fairly warm and dry climate. This is the ideal for passive solar dehydration, so that would definitely be the path to take, especially in these early stages of the project. There are a few different designs you can use, and for this situation partial dehydration is definitely an option, reducing the time needed to process the material. Plans for various dehydrators are available widely on the internet, so it just comes down to a matter of scale and your specific situation.

The goal is not to dry out the material, necessarily, but to simply reduce the active water content of the waste that you’ll be using. On that note, dehydration can be supplemented or replaced with salt or even sugar additives. These will keep the moisture in the material while ‘locking’ it away from bacterial use. To give you some context for the idea of active water, moist pet foods and salami are both under the active water content for most bacterial colonisation, and neither of those could be described as ‘dry.’ In fact, soy sauce actually has less active water than either, so drying out the material fully is unnecessary.

From some quick reading on the subject, high levels of salt shouldn’t harm the larvae at all, so some salt treatment of waste that you plan to store for extended periods of time should pose no issues to the health of your colonies. As for the degree to which you would need to treat your material, that would frankly be a matter of experimentation - the specifics of the situation have too great an effect on the result for any blanket recommendation to be made.

I’m glad I was able to help.

Nicholas Sylvester

Photo of Viraj Sikand

Hi Kate! 

Thanks for your comments! You're right—in entering this growing market for insect-based proteins, we're hoping to slowly switch the mindset of fish farmers and consumers to being more curious and willing to accept them. 

Currently, in Kenya, there are no regulatory barriers to incorporating the larvae into feed, and we're making sure to comply with regulation regarding waste treatment and management. 


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