Hungry bugs as fertilizer

September 11, 2022

As fertilizer prices shot up following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Ugandan villager Peter Wakisi fretted for the future of his small farm and his young family.

Little did he know that the answer to his prayers would arrive in the form of bugs, specifically the black soldier fly, an insect introduced to the East African nation by scientists who see it as the solution to farmers’ woes.

Wakisi, 36, is one of over 1,200 villagers enrolled in a program to grow and sell the larvae of the black soldier fly or BSF, a tiny creature whose powerful stomach enzymes turn food waste into fertilizer.
The food digested and excreted by the larvae is used to nourish plants.

The benefits are plain to see, father-of-four Wakisi said, pointing to a row of black plastic containers, home to the young larvae he buys and raises before selling back to the scientists for a threefold profit.

“The manure from the waste generated by the BSF, mixed with organic waste and pig droppings, is safe to the soil and much cheaper compared to inorganic fertilizers whose prices increased due to the war between Russia and Ukraine,” Wakisi said.

“Organic fertilizers have reduced the expenses I used to incur on chemical fertilizers by almost 60 percent. My plants are healthier and yields are better now,” he told AFP in his village of Kawoomya Nyiize in central Uganda’s Kayunga district.

The program, which is partly funded by the government of The Netherlands, is run by Kampala-based Dutch startup Marula Proteen Limited in partnership with Ugandan agricultural firm Enimiro.

“A soil that doesn’t replenish its organic stock will eventually deplete and the plant yields will diminish significantly,” Tommie Hooft, director at Marula Proteen, said.

The fertilizer produced by the black soldier flies “is full of healthy microbes that provide essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium” to plants, making it an excellent option for farmers, he said.

For Wakisi, these black bugs have transformed his family’s fortunes, enabling him to hire a tractor, feed his children and pay school fees for his four younger siblings.

Though the cost of fertilizer continues to soar in Uganda, he no longer worries about it.

“I have abandoned the use of chemical fertilizers,” he said.

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