In the midst of Ugandan farmers’ struggle with the soaring prices of fertiliser as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, help comes unexpectedly in the form of a black soldier fly (BSF), an insect whose stomach enzymes turn food waste into fertiliser.

Peter Wakisi, a Ugandan villager and father of four, used to worry about his small farm and family when fertiliser prices went up. Now he has signed up for a programme run by Kampala-based Dutch start-up Marula Proteen Limited to breed and market BSF larvae whose excrement is used to feed crops.

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 fertilisers whose prices increased due to the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Organic fertilisers have reduced the expenses I used to incur on chemical fertilisers by almost 60 percent. My plants are healthier and yields are better now,

Peter Wakisi, Ugandan villager & farmer

Wakisi told AFP that he was able to rent a tractor and provide for his family, thanks to good yields and the triple profit from the larvae he buys, nurtures, and sells back to the scientists. He said that he has already stopped using chemical fertilisers.

The program, Marula Proteen Hub, is in collaboration with Ugandan agricultural company Enimiro and is partially supported by the government of the Netherlands. Farmers are given BSF systems to rear the larvae. The larvae then “eat through waste collected from homes.” After eight days, the mature larvae are sold or fed to the livestock, and the smallholder farmers may retain fertilisers for their gardens. Tommie Hooft, director of Marula Proteen Limited told AFP that the black soldier flies generate fertiliser that is rich in good bacteria, giving plants essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. 

Marula Proteen Limited does business with companies like Clarke Farms, a 1,500-acre coffee farm about 190 miles west of Kampala to sell its BSF fertilisers. To date, more than 1,200 Ugandan villagers have benefited from the program. To assist with waste disposal, the start-up has also teamed up with the Kampala Capital City Authority. They gather 8 to 10 tonnes of trash every day from food markets and feed it to larvae.

Marula Proteen Hub had already been encouraging the farmers to utilise the BFS systems even before the Russia-Ukraine war started. However, the seemingly repugnant nature of the whole process made the Ugandan farmers hesitant.

I wondered what they will think of me keeping maggots? Some, however, accepted. So they have been keeping those maggots from which we make animal feed and now, quality fertiliser too.

Abbey Lubega, Supervisor of Marula Proteen Hub in Kangulumira sub-county (source: Inter Press Service)

Harriet Nakayi lives in Namakandwa Parish and is one of the women who have received training in the sustainable production of BSF larvae for animal proteins and frass fertiliser for crops. She uses compost and frass fertilisers for her coffee, banana and vanilla crops.

Fertiliser costs in Uganda had more than doubled by the beginning of April 2022. Kenya, Tanzania and the rest of East Africa also rely on imports from Russia and Belarus. Since composting of BSF’s frass fertiliser takes only 5 weeks, as opposed to the composting of typical organic fertiliser that takes 8 to 24 weeks, the BSF systems can help improve food security, reduce dependence on imported chemical fertilisers and combat climate change.

Being so dependent on an imported product is detrimental to farmers’ profitability. Our organic fertiliser is locally produced, and always available.

Tommie Hooft, Director, Marula Proteen Limited

Uganda terminated its membership with the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) in February, after withdrawing from the ICA 2007 agreement due to excessive tariffs and limitations on the export of processed coffee to Europe and other regions. While ICO said Uganda’s departure from the organisation will not affect its trade, Ugandan coffee farmers are concerned that there will be a decrease in their exports. As the country continues to navigate through these issues, including drought, climate change and the effects of the Russia-Ukraine war, the rearing of BSF is a welcome solution to the farmers’ need for organic and affordable fertilisers.

Photo by Badru Katumba / AFP

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