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Insects as alternative animal feed

Steps are afoot to determine the value of the Black Soldier Fly (BSF) as an alternative source of high-quality protein in poultry and aquaculture feed in the Caribbean. 

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries of Trinidad and Tobago, the University of the West Indies (UWI) St Augustine Campus and Fera Science Ltd are collaborating to establish an insect bioreactor pilot plant at the UWI Field Station.

During a recent virtual meeting attended by 84 people from across the Caribbean, preparations began to establish the insect bioreactor pilot plant facility.

In a press release, referring to the meeting as the “first major step of the FAO led insect production project which is being implemented in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Grenada, and Jamaica,” the international body noted that BSF has been researched extensively for animal feed globally and has shown to be easily reared in the tropics.

“It is also extremely suitable for animal feed as it contains high concentrations of the most important proteins and amino acids needed by livestock or farm animals,” the FAO noted.

During the initial phase of the project, the Insect Bioreactor Pilot Plant will be used for demonstration and training on the establishment of small-scale BSF production and primary processing units, along with the production of the BSF for Barbados Grenada, and Jamaica. It will also be used for additional testing and field trials. 

“We cannot transform agriculture if the cost of critical inputs like animal feed and fertilizer remains incredibly high and largely imported. How can we begin to address the cost of a healthy diet if we do not seriously explore technologies that can improve production efficiency? We cannot expect youth to take agriculture seriously as a profession unless we facilitate modern solutions that are demonstrably economical and open the door for fulfilling careers in agriculture,” stated Dr Renata Clarke, FAO sub-regional coordinator.

“We should move with greater urgency so as to avoid delays in investing in the circular economy – as the issues of the environment are way too pressing, particularly for us.  This project responds to all these necessities and more. I expect this project to be transformative and impactful,” she added.

As the Caribbean Community seeks to reduce its food import bill by 25% by 2025, special attention has been given to increase production of selected commodities, including livestock, to meet growing protein needs and substitute for imported products.  It is estimated livestock feed often comprises up to 70% of the production costs and continues to be a binding constraint for the expansion and sustainability of the livestock sector in the region.

Damian Malins, Venturing Projects Director, Mission Lead for Fera Science Ltd noted that “population growth, climate change and the dual challenges of ensuring food security and food safety are impacting all areas of the agri-food chains across the Caribbean and worldwide.”

He said Fera recognises that insect protein has “enormous potential to respond to these challenges as a high quality, safe and sustainably sourced ingredient of animal feed which can displace soy and fishmeal when blended into animal diets.  As a specialist and world leading expert scientific services laboratory, with over 100 years heritage of ‘protecting you, what you eat and the world in which we live’, we are bringing our expertise in insect farming, food safety and novel protein production to the Caribbean.”

Roshni Ramsingh, Project Focal Point in the Trinidadian Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries, put this new mission and resulting research into historical perspective.

 “Agriculture has to constantly evolve, just like the very first farmers who scattered grass seeds around their settlements instead of wandering in search of edible grasses; we too must continually re-tool ourselves. Adopting insects as a brand-new item in our tool kit as we search for new and innovative ways to feed our population will provide value beyond their substitution costs in the feed rations. The synergism of removing wastes by feeding them to insects that are then fed to livestock which form part of our food web will redound through the entire sector adding value and opening avenues we can barely glimpse.”

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