MOST of us feel a primeval urge to kill when confronted with a fly buzzing incessantly against a windowpane. But Jason Drew, a British entrepreneur, believes the humble housefly could hold the key to feeding the world’s burgeoning population.
He is about to start what he calls the “largest farming operation on earth” — a factory in South Africa that will house 6.5bn flies and produce 24 tons of maggots every day.
By turning these maggots into a dried, protein-rich food that can be fed to animals, Drew is at the centre of an agricultural revolution he claims could change the way the world feeds itself.
By the middle of this century there will be an extra 2.3bn people in the world and global food production will have to rise by 60% to meet demand, according to the UN.
Yet resources are increasingly scarce. Stocks of wild fish — a vital source of protein for humans and farm animals — are running out. An increasing amount of the world’s agricultural land is also used to grow food for livestock.
Enter the fly as global saviour. Drew’s company, AgriProtein, collects organic waste — the blood and guts from abattoirs, out-of-date food from supermarkets and farm manure — and uses it to breed maggots.
“We call the waste ‘larvae lunch’. All we’re doing is recycling nutrients that would otherwise go to waste and feeding it to larvae,” said Drew, who refers to himself as an environmental capitalist. The larvae are then harvested, dried and compressed into flakes or powder, which can be fed to chickens, fish and household pets.
“People thought the whole idea was ridiculous at first. They said I was mad,” said Drew.
“But when they imagine a trout rising out of the river to take a fly or a chicken pulling a worm from the ground, they realise that this is totally natural and they come round to the idea.”
Last year the UN began to promote the use of insects as an alternative, high-quality source of protein for farmed animals. The EU has also begun to look at easing regulations to allow insect meal to be fed to farmed fish.
At present their protein can be fed to pets but not to animals destined for human consumption.
“This whole thing came about because we were looking at how the world can feed 9bn people,” said Drew. “Fly protein is one of the solutions. It’s an entirely natural process that will be a major global business in a decade or so.”