This farm breeds hungry larvae that eat rubbish

Mr Darren Ho (standing) uses the black soldier fly larvae to break down food waste. Today, Insectta recycles about 500kg of food waste into fertiliser daily.
Mr Darren Ho (standing) uses the black soldier fly larvae to break down food waste. Today, Insectta recycles about 500kg of food waste into fertiliser daily.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO
Mr Darren Ho (standing) uses the black soldier fly larvae to break down food waste. Today, Insectta recycles about 500kg of food waste into fertiliser daily.
Mr Darren Ho uses the black soldier fly larvae to break down food waste. Today, Insectta recycles about 500kg of food waste into fertiliser daily.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

At Singapore's first insect farm, rows of containers with decomposing fruit, rice, fish and other food items lie crawling with insects in a space about the size of a four-room flat.

But there is none of the pungent smell that usually wafts from rubbish bins. The food waste is being broken down by nature's food-waste digesters - larvae of the black soldier fly.

When Insectta was set up in March last year, it was converting a mere 2kg of food waste into fertiliser each day. Today it recycles about 500kg daily.

Co-founder Darren Ho, who was in the finance sector before this venture, said he did not want to compete with existing vegetable and fish farmers. So he decided to farm insects instead.

The black soldier fly survives well in the tropics, does not transmit disease and has a short lifespan, making breeding easy, said the 29-year-old. "It was a no-brainer," he added.

The fertiliser produced is used to grow vegetables, while the larva, killed after it has completed its job, may end up as pet food.

The Insectta team is also studying what type of food the larvae like best. The team has found that they thrive on simple carbohydrates like bread and fruit, and less so on complex carbohydrates like rice bran left behind after rice is milled.

Insectta hopes the system can one day be built at hawker centres and markets, so food waste produced there can be recycled directly to grow vegetables that can be used by hawkers in their dishes.

The team hopes to farm other insects such as the yellow soldier fly, which can also recycle food waste; plus cricket and mealworms, both high sources of protein that can be used as food additives.

Samantha Boh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2018, with the headline 'This farm breeds hungry larvae that eat rubbish'. Print Edition | Subscribe