KASESE DISTRICT, UGANDA 19 March 2024 Local Innovation and Technologies

As narrated by Wambui Kuria and Rahmat Eyinfunjowo, Intellecap East Africa

Augustine Babughirana founded Ugavoil in 2018 as a private agribusiness in Kasese district, Uganda, to “decouple economic activity from the consumption of finite resources”. Ugavoil is committed to using byproducts as a raw material for other processes and products, to promote sustainability of livelihoods and the environment. The company farms black soldier flies to recycle organic waste into fertilizer and livestock feed, to reduce landfill waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

Native to many regions of Africa, the black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) is a non-pest insect known for its remarkable waste-conversion abilities. With its voracious appetite for organic waste, rapid growth rate, and nutrient-rich larvae (maggots), this insect offers a multi-faceted solution to the twin challenge of biowaste management and climate change.

Nursery of neonatal larvae shortly after hatching.

The flies lay eggs in decaying matter where the larvae, the true stars of the show, develop. As they feed, the larvae break down a wide range of organic materials, from food scraps to animal manure, agricultural residues, and even sewage sludge. These larvae convert the waste materials into two highly valuable resources for the agriculture sector: protein-rich larvae biomass and nutrient-rich natural fertilizer or “frass”.

The nutrient-dense biomass can be harvested and used as livestock or fish feed, or can be converted into biofuels. The larvae themselves are a protein-rich food source for animals, offering a sustainable alternative to traditional livestock feed.

The second product, the nutrient-rich frass, can be used as a potent fertilizer, thereby replacing synthetic fertilizers that contribute to climate change through high energy consumption at manufacture, nitrogen oxide emissions during production and use, and soil health degradation and water pollution after use.

Ugavoil sources its organic waste from markets and households in the county, as well as from an avocado processing factory. It collects 40 metric tons of waste (including plastic, paper, excavated soil, and textile and food waste) per day from the municipal authority. A quarter of this (ten tons) is organic waste that can be sorted to feed the black soldier flies. The municipal council sensitizes market vendors on waste management; interested farmers receive training on how to sort, process, and convert waste to agricultural products. The avocado processing factory provides four tons of avocado pulp waste every day.

Farmers interested in using the resulting agricultural products are also trained on how to use and apply the fertilizer and livestock feed for optimal yield.

Ugavoil employees earn the equivalent of between US$ 100–250 per month, excluding welfare costs such as breakfast, lunch and statutory contributions. There are ten permanent and four temporary employees.

While the impacts are not actively tracked, the business has shown many benefits:

  • It has reduced emissions from the burning of market and household wastes.

  • Incidences of floods and pollution of water bodies.

  • It has reduced methane emissions from decomposing market and household wastes. The contribution of black soldier fly farming in reducing methane emissions is recognized globally.

  • It contributes to controlling vectors such as rats, mosquitoes, and flies that transmit diseases such as malaria, cholera, typhoid, and dysentery, and the adverse health impacts of strong odors.

  • It creates jobs and has gender impacts by proactively targeting women for training and economic empowerment in the business. Ugavoil works mostly with women and sees black soldier fly production as an opportunity to empower women across the agricultural value chain, from waste management to larvae harvesting, processing, and distribution. They have a key partnership with the East African consultancy Intellecap, to further the women’s economic empowerment potential of the business.

Fresh black soldier fly larvae after harvesting.

How Challenges Are Addressed

The practitioners in Ugavoil have a range of experiences in trying to engage communities to embrace black soldier fly farming as a regenerative process to recycle waste and use its products:

  • Farmers are initially cautious about using maggots as farm inputs, until they see demonstrated success. Such positive results are instrumental in engaging others.

  • Farmers adopt and continue to use the products due to two key factors: better yield of crops and livestock, and lower production costs than traditional alternatives.

Nevertheless, at present, challenges of space and resources inhibit implementation and scaling up for farmers who are being trained to convert waste into commercial products. Black soldier fly farmers do not typically have access to the land and funds needed for waste processing. Enabling policies and financial support from governments and business incubators could be helpful in getting more of these initiatives off the ground.