Singapore's eco-friendly insect farm, Insectta, rolls out grub for fish and birds

Teng Yong Ping
Lifestyle Editor
Insectta’s black soldier fly larvae feeding on spent brewery grains and soy bean pulp. (Photo: Teng Yong Ping/Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)

Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore marks Earth Week from 16-22 April with a series of articles about sustainability and environmental protection.

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s first and only black soldier fly farm has finally introduced their products to the market – live animal feed for birds and fish in the form of waste-fighting black soldier fly larvae.

Formed in 2017, Insectta began selling live grubs as feed for fish and pet birds late last year after a period of research and development – and the product is a hit with pet hobbyists and fish farms. The start-up recently also started producing natural fertiliser in the form of larva manure. The Agri-food and Veterinary Authority awarded an animal feed licence to Insectta in October 2018. The black soldier fly maggots can eventually also be turned into dry feed in pellet or powder form.

The farm, tucked away in a corner of Queenstown in Jalan Penjara, has ambitions of creating a circular economy in Singapore by using food waste to feed and grow their hungry grubs. Insectta currently feeds its larvae 200kg of food waste daily and sells 100kg of larvae each month.

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Eco-warrior bugs

The farm collects pre-consumer food waste such as spent brewery grains and okara – or soy bean pulp – from breweries and soy product factories. Insectta hopes to utilise post-consumer food waste too – food scraps from homes, restaurants and food stalls – when regulations allow them to do so.

Insectta’s live black soldier fly larvae, ready to be sold as pet feed. (Photo: Teng Yong Ping/Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)

Phua Jun Wei, Insectta’s chief technology officer, told Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore, “We’re trying to do our best to use up as much pre-consumer waste as possible in order to reduce the amount of waste that’s going into our incinerators and landfills.”

The 28-year-old former biology researcher at the National University of Singapore added, “Down the road, we hope to be able to valorise much larger quantities of food waste and produce much more larvae. This can be used as alternative protein for any kind of animal: fish, poultry or swine.”

As the global agriculture and aquaculture industries face unsustainable crop farming and depleting fishmeal stocks in the oceans, they are seeking new protein sources aside from grain crops and fishmeal to feed their livestock. They are turning increasingly to insects for animal feed.

Contrary to other media reports, Insectta is not the first insect farm in Singapore, though it is the first licensed black soldier fly farm here. It is, however, the first insect farm here that uses purely food waste to feed its bugs. There are also other farms here that breed insects such as mealworms or superworms.

The black soldier fly is a harmless insect native to Central and South America that has spread to all the continents. It does not bite humans or spread diseases.

The larvae consist of 50 per cent protein, and is also rich in calcium and digestible fat, making it ideal as animal feed or pet food. Black soldier fly larvae have even been touted as a food of the future for humans, but that future is still quite far off at this point as research is being conducted on insects for human nutrition.

Andy Yap, deputy managing director of Qian Hu Fish Farm, feeding fish with black soldier fly larvae. (Photo: Teng Yong Ping/Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)

Popular with fish and bird owners

Insectta currently supplies larvae to bird and fish owners as well as pet shops and fish farms, including Singapore’s largest ornamental fish farm, Qian Hu Fish Farm. The company is also talking to chicken farms to convince them to use the maggots as poultry feed.

For individual consumers such as those who keep fish and birds at home, the larvae cost S$4 per 30g package or S$30 per 500g, with discounts for bigger orders. Customers can order the larvae from Insectta’s website.

Compared to other insect live feed for birds and fish, black soldier fly larvae currently are cheaper than roaches and grasshoppers, though more expensive than mealworms and crickets.

Pet owners and fish farms that Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore spoke to were supportive of this new eco-friendly alternative to the live feed that they normally use.

Insectta’s black soldier fly larvae are popular with bird hobbyists at Kebun Baru Bird Corner. (Photo: Teng Yong Ping/Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)

Bird hobbyist, 59-year-old retiree Ow Soon Pooh, who is at Kebun Baru Bird Corner on most Sundays admiring songbirds, said he buys 1kg of Insectta’s grubs weekly for his birds such as the white-rumped shama and China thrush. “When my birds are moulting their feathers, they need a lot of protein, and the larvae give them more energy to sing more loudly too,” Ow said.

Qian Hu Fish Farm’s deputy managing director, Andy Yap, told Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore, “I find that black soldier fly larvae have an advantage because you can be sure that they do not carry diseases that contaminate your fish. The protein level is higher, and this is a green product. I find it amazing because you’re also helping the environment to go green, because you’re converting waste product into feed.”

Insectta is a relatively small operation at the moment, with five individual shareholders. It declined to reveal its income currently, but the company is looking for investors in order to expand.

Globally, black soldier fly farming is shaping up to be big business: insect farm operators such as Britain’s AgriProtein, Canada’s Enterra, the Netherlands’ Protix and US-based EnviroFlight have attracted multimillion-dollar investments from the animal feed industry. Even global fast food giant McDonald’s is studying whether insects can be used to feed chickens as a sustainable replacement for soy protein.

Here’s hoping Singapore’s very own Insectta will be able to join the ranks of successful insect farmers working towards a sustainable future for the planet.

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