By JAMES TABABA
In an agriculture industry that constantly seeks innovative solutions to combat food shortages and reduce waste, Omar Tubungbanua, the owner of Green Manna Farm, a farmer from Valencia, Bukidnon offers a sustainable solution by farming an insect called the black soldier fly.
Omar used to be an aircraft maintenance engineering instructor in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE). However, the pandemic prompted Omar and his family to return to the Philippines, as they feared a potential food crisis. Back in the Philippines, he initially ventured into aquaponics, a farming method that combines plant and fish cultivation. However, he realized that the operational costs associated with aquaponics were considerably high, so he made the choice to temporarily suspend his aquaponics occupation and shift his focus to black soldier fly farming. During this transition, he turned his attention to raising ducks and chickens as well, as this proved to be a more financially viable venture compared to aquaponics.
He first encountered the insect in 2019 when he took a vacation to Indonesia to visit a friend who is involved in black soldier fly farming. During this time, he found himself immersed in the processes of black soldier fly farming technology. It wasn’t until September of the following year that Omar realized the true potential of this acquired knowledge when he thought, “Why not utilize this technology here?”
The great potential of the black soldier flies
The benefits of employing black soldier flies in waste management are numerous. These flies can serve as a valuable protein supplement feed for a variety of livestock, including chickens, ducks, rabbits, aquaculture fishes, cows, and goats. This is achieved by converting black soldier flies into a powder form that can be easily incorporated into animal feed.
Furthermore, black soldier flies have been shown to boost the immune systems of avian livestock, making them more resilient against diseases, and ultimately improving animal health.
Lastly, the use of black soldier flies contributes significantly to addressing the ongoing garbage problem, particularly in managing organic waste within communities. The natural decomposing abilities of these insects can reduce waste.
Black soldier flies as poultry feed
Black soldier flies, like other common flies such as dragonflies, butterflies, and fruit flies, have distinct characteristics. Unlike house flies, which are notorious for scavenging for up to 60 days and often associated with uncleanliness, black soldier flies have a different life cycle. They live as adults for only 7 to 10 days, lacking mouthparts and relying on nutrients gathered during their larval stage. Their sole purpose as adult flies is to mate, reproduce, lay eggs, and then naturally die. This unique life cycle makes them cleaner in comparison to houseflies.
During their larval stage, which spans 14 days, black soldier fly larvae exhibit a voracious appetite. “A single kilogram of black soldier fly larvae can devour one kilogram of chopped food within an hour,” Omar said.
Omar takes an active role in producing black soldier fly eggs and rearing the larvae. Approximately 90% of these larvae are utilized as a high-protein feed source for their chickens and ducks, supporting their nutritional needs. The remaining 10% of the larvae are returned to the insect colony to perpetuate the breeding process, ensuring a continuous cycle of production.
Omar currently maintains a flock of 200 ducks and 100 chickens on his farm. The ducks are primarily for egg production, used in making balut, while the chickens are raised for meat.
“I’m delighted to share that I haven’t had to purchase commercial feeds since September of last year, and I’m extremely satisfied with the outcomes,” Omar said.
Omar has implemented a well-balanced dietary strategy for his ducks and chickens. He relies on black soldier fly larvae to provide 60% of their dietary requirements. This approach is carefully designed to avoid any potential health issues that could arise from an excess of protein in the animals’ diets. To complement the larvae’s protein-rich diet, the remaining 40% of their nutrition comes from corn or rice bran.
Challenges and opportunities
Omar aims to teach the community how to use black soldier flies for eco-friendly waste disposal and resource utilization. While some people want to visit his farm, he’s currently declining because it mainly deals with organic waste decomposition, which can be unpleasant due to the odors. However, Omar is still dedicated to sharing his knowledge and promoting black soldier flies for sustainable waste management.
I’ve been operating manually, hoping for a potential investor to provide financial support for purchasing a shredder and dehydrator on the farm,” Omar said. “These machines are essential because improper drying of food scraps and organic agricultural waste can lead to unpleasant odors. While black soldier flies can consume a wide range of materials, optimizing the farm’s operations involves reducing the moisture content in the materials fed to them.”
Three main factors crucial for success
Omar emphasizes three main phases crucial for success in this farming method. The first phase, the source, revolves around the procurement of food for the larvae. This source can encompass various types of waste, including municipal, agricultural, or restaurant waste. Regardless of the waste type, a consistent and reliable supply of food is imperative.
“Despite being just insects, black soldier fly larvae are insatiable eaters, and their constant feeding habits require a steady stream of nourishment,” Omar said. “Without a dependable source of food waste, you may not be successful in farming these insects.”
The second phase centers on technology. “Even if you have a dependable source of food waste, if you’re not well-versed in the entire insect-rearing process, from breeding to growth, success may remain elusive,” Omar said.
Finally, the third phase encompasses output. It represents the culmination of the first two successful phases. A steady supply of food for the insects, coupled with a deep understanding of rearing techniques and technology, ultimately yields a successful and abundant output.
Black soldier flies as decomposers
Omar has made significant strides in his black soldier fly farming operation. He can effectively process one ton of food waste on a weekly basis. His efforts have garnered the trust of a food establishment, which now supplies segregated food scraps directly from its material recycling facility.
Omar has also captured the attention of the Local Government Unit of Valencia. The LGU is willing to contribute organic food waste to Omar’s operation, recognizing the challenges they face in managing such waste in their landfills, despite having facilities in place. Regrettably, Omar is currently limited by the manual processing methods he employs and the demands of his other farm responsibilities. Thus, it has become necessary for him to invest in appropriate equipment to streamline and expedite the processing of these additional waste materials. This expansion will not only enhance his black soldier fly farming but also contribute to more efficient waste management in his community.
The future of waste management
Omar firmly believes that this method of waste management has the potential for significant scalability. His message to leaders and decision-makers is a simple yet powerful one — “give it a try.”
“In the current global trend, waste management primarily involves practices such as landfills and recycling,” Omar said. “However, when it comes to embracing natural decomposition techniques, only a handful of countries are leading the way. Countries like Indonesia, Singapore, and Switzerland have already adopted this approach. In the Philippines, while there are some backyard-scale black soldier fly farmers, the utilization of black soldier fly decomposition techniques in waste management is limited to a select few municipalities, such as Alaminos City in Pangasinan.”
Photo courtesy of the Green Manna Farm