How do you set up a profitable value chain unlike any other in just four years? A consortium of Dutch and African players want to use cricket farming in order to improve food security in Kenya and Uganda. It is an innovative project with many partners, huge risks and a very short lead time.
Flying Food is the name of the project that Erwin Beckers has sunk his teeth into on behalf of TNO. It really is a project that has some bite to it. 'Nowhere else in the world can you find a project like the one we're setting up here. Cricket production in Africa has incredible potential. It's easy for farmers to take on besides their regular activities, as it doesn't require a lot of land or expensive equipment. Young people who are currently struggling to find work on farms will need very little start-up capital to start breeding crickets.'
Opportunities for women
Insect farming also holds opportunities for women, who are often incredibly busy with work on the farm and running a household. You only need half an hour a day to take care of insects and the work isn't physically demanding. Furthermore, what makes women into an important target audience is the fact that they're concerned with their family's health. And insects are a healthy source of protein.'
A great fit for tropical Africa
According to Beckers, tropical Africa is well suited to insect farming. 'People already eat insects there, but only those they can find in nature. They don't breed them yet – which is a shame, as the warm climate is perfect for it.' However, the Flying Foods project originated in the chilly Netherlands. 'As far as technology goes, partners such as Kreca Ento-Food BV, Venik and NGN are leaders in the insect farming industry, and they see great potential in developing countries.'
'It's about sheer innovation, and we needed partners that could cover the entire new production chain. We've started a public-private partnership with businesses and educational institutions from Kenya and Uganda, with ICCO Cooperation, BoP Innovation Centre and HAS University of Applied Sciences joining in on the Dutch side. In order to further minimize the financial risk, we successfully reached out to the Facility for Sustainable Entrepreneurship and Food Security (FDOV).'
30 crates for 100 farmers
Insect farming as such is not that difficult. 'We gave 100 farmers 30 special cricket breeding crates each. With those, they'll have everything they need to get to work. Besides feeding the crickets daily, they'll have to do a bit extra every three days in order to breed new crickets. If the farmers can provide us with enough data about the cricket breeding process, they can keep the crates when the project is over.'
Bumps in the road
Unfortunately, it was not quite that simple. 'We've hit quite a few bumps in the road. The crickets weren't growing fast enough, and in some places we couldn't get any suitable crates. What's more, a lot of farmers simply weren't very good at breeding insects or supplying us with data, and many couldn't get the required start-up capital together. In short, we had to constantly adjust and adapt our plan.'
'However, thanks to an adjusted approach, microfinancing and new partnerships, the system is now up and running. Crickets are tremendously popular: so popular that we can't even cope with demand. Have I tasted them myself? Of course! They're delicious.'
Find out more about the project on www.flyingfoodproject.com.