Black soldier flies to the rescue

Photo: Dr Sarena Che Omar

DID you know that Malaysians produce 15,000 tonnes of food waste every day? Food waste end up in landfills where they generate methane, a major greenhouse gas.

On a different but related point, Malaysia is highly self-sufficient in the livestock and aquaculture industry. However, up to 70% of animal feed is made up of imported raw materials such as corn and soybean. These crops require large amounts of land and water to cultivate, thus leaving a heavy toll on the environment.

Soybean meal is one of the biggest animal feed imported by Malaysia, hence being highly dependent on imported raw materials could pose problems for the livestock industry due to price fluctuations and supply issues.

But there is growing interest in exploring the use of insects for livestock feed that could change this. After all, insects are highly nutritious and are already natural food for fish and poultry. They require less space, labour and energy to cultivate, and in the waste disposal area, they can consume discarded food to produce useful by-products.

This is where the larvae of the black soldier fly come in. Black soldier flies are insects found in warm climates, especially the tropics. They are used to compost waste or convert the waste into animal feed (pic).

The larvae can feed on a wide range of food waste, producing a nitrogen-rich product called frass. The flies also have a high fat and protein content of more than 30% on a dry matter basis, making them perfect as livestock feed in the aquaculture and poultry industry.

Compared to composting, the black soldier flies are more environmentally friendly as they produce 47 times less direct carbon dioxide emissions. They also have a high food conversion rate compared to conventional livestock feed.

In recent years, there has been more research on and companies producing and cultivating black soldier flies. We believe this trend is good for the environment and hopefully these insects would be used more commercially in future.

Both the community and government should explore this potential further so that not only can we dispose of food waste in a sustainable manner, but also reduce our dependence on other countries for animal feed while cultivating healthier animals and higher quality food for consumers.

LIM HUI LIN Bristol University and DR SARENA CHE OMAR Khazanah Research Institute Kuala Lumpur

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