Raised on vertical farms and stuffed with fruit waste, fly larvae have become animal feed and the pillar of a circular economy venture in Costa Rica.
In the agricultural town of Guápiles, 60 km north of the capital San José, an innovative company put the flies that swarmed crops to work in 2018.
The black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) is native to tropical climates like the Costa Rican one and its larvae ceaselessly swallow organic waste. “It is a high-quality protein,” Miguel Carmona, president of the company ProNuvo, he said.
Thus, fly larvae become “healthier” proteins for animals and with less environmental impact than animal feed based on animal protein (beef or fish) or vegetable (soy), explains the 52-year-old businessman.
The end products are exported as dried larvae, powdered protein and insect oil, for now only to the United States, although a fish farming company in Costa Rica already uses it in its tilapia hatchery in the north of the country.
This company has everything it needs in one place. The flies are endemic and bred in cages inside a greenhouse at about 40°C and with high humidity. They live there for a week and lay about 500 eggs each before dying.
Four days later the eggs hatch and the larvae begin to feed for 14 days on the organic waste from banana, mango and papaya plantations until they fatten up 10,000 times their weight, the businessman explains.
“Those larvae are then turned into proteins and oils and fats that are very rich for animal feed,” Gabriel Carmona, general manager of ProNuvo and brother of Miguel said.
In addition, the excrement deposited by the larvae is an ideal fertilizer for the same fruit plantations. “We are practicing the circular economy,” says Miguel.
Less land and water
“We are using waste from other industries to make a high-quality protein without having the environmental impacts that soy and cattle have today,” comments the company president.
Insect protein is a sustainable alternative to animal or vegetable protein. According to the company, the production of one ton of beef requires 30,000 m2 of land and soy production 3,000 m2.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) notes that 30% of the planet’s total land area is dedicated to livestock.
Vast stretches of land are deforested for production, resulting in less tree area to absorb CO2. The fly larvae farm only needs 300 m2. The same goes for water consumption. Producing one ton of beef protein requires 15.4 million liters of water and soy crops 1.6 million liters. The larvae barely consume 10,000 liters.
And the production time for one ton of protein is also less: the flies take 14 days, soy six months and cows 36 months.
Pioneers in the region
This Costa Rica farm is the first to produce insect protein in Latin America, notes Miguel Carmona.
“Pioneers in the region,” he says proudly of the family venture. However, the black soldier fly is already part of the work of other similar innovations aimed at the production of organic fertilizers in Kenya or Uganda in the face of rising prices as a result of the war between Russia and Ukraine.
In Europe, larvae are also sold as a protein supplement for animals. You can even buy packages digitally.