GOKWE: Thirty-two-year-old Miriam Sibanda dips her left hand into a heap of greyish mushy matter stored in a makeshift pond and brings out a handful of the muck. With the index finger of her right hand, she softly prods into the sludge, spreading it over her palm to reveal some slimy maggots, which wriggle as they are exposed to light.
Such an exercise could easily make some people sick, but for Sibanda, breeding maggots has become part of her life.
The mother of three young children who are all in primary school is part of a ten-member women’s group, known as Combine Group, in Tanyanyiwa Village of Nyaje Ward or Ward 30, in Zimbabwe’s Gokwe South communal lands.
Sibanda’s group is one of several that are involved in a program that helps teach communal farmers better farming methods, including producing feed for their own livestock.
Through the project, which is being implemented by an international non-governmental organization in Midlands province’s three districts of Gokwe, Kwekwe, and Shurugwi, several groups comprising mostly of women, are producing larvae of a fly known as the black soldier fly, or BSF, and using it to augment feed for chickens.
Most of the women have for a long time been raising broiler chickens for sale but the ever-increasing costs of commercially produced chicken feed had forced them to stop as it was no longer profitable.
The production of the black soldier fly larvae, which the villagers started in the last quarter of 2020, has enabled them to revive chicken rearing and they now raise free-range chickens on a large scale.
Sibanda’s group is one of the six groups that were involved in the pilot project of producing black soldier fly larvae after receiving training from agriculture extension workers involved in the initiative.
“They taught us that we can produce the larvae or maggots by using waste like leftover food from our kitchens, rotting maize meal, or any other rotting crop such as cowpeas and the like, as well as vegetables. Such waste, which we store in a purpose-built pond that has to be closed at the top, forms the substrate or the material in which the maggots can grow.
“We have some traps made of small pieces of wood and the black soldier fly lays its eggs on the traps. The eggs can be seen after four to five days and they hatch after fourteen days, producing the maggots. Other types of fly like the common house fly, may also hatch their own eggs in the substrate, but these die, and those of the black soldier fly survive,” she explained.
Sibanda and her colleagues harvest an average of 10 kilograms of maggots after every three days and they dry them before they can be mixed with other components to make chicken feed.
She readily admits that at first the idea of producing maggots was as odd as it was unappealing and the situation was worsened by the fact that the smell of the substrate was offensive. Many of the fellow villagers to whom the idea was being sold quickly gave up, but Sibanda and her colleagues persevered, as they liked the thought of being able to produce their own chicken feed.
“In the initial stages, when we would open the pond to harvest the maggots, a sickening smell would engulf the whole homestead and we would use gloves to harvest the maggots as the substrate was grimy. It was tough and others easily gave up but we soldiered on because the idea of producing our own chicken feed from readily available resources was very attractive. With time we were able to produce better substrate which is not smelly and also produces more maggots,” Sibanda said.
Sibanda and her colleagues keep an average of 100 free-range chickens at any given time. Besides getting an income from selling the chickens, Sibanda and her partners also make money from producing chicken feed for sale.
Sibanda says she is now better able to take care of her family thanks to the income that she earns from chicken rearing and chicken feed production.
Senzeni Govere is also a member of the Combine Group. The thirty-five-year-old mother of five is a proud homeowner who has one of the most beautiful homesteads in the locality.
Govere says she is pleased that through the money that she earns from chicken rearing and chicken feed sales, she has been able to help her husband build a more modern home with structures made of brick and mortar instead of from pole and mud that is more common in the rural areas like hers.
“My husband concentrates on the cropping side of our farming while I focus on chicken rearing and chicken feed production. We support each other in what we do and from the income that we get, we have been able to improve our home. We have two children in secondary school and one in primary school. We are able to pay for their education through the money that we get from farming,” Govere says.
Benhilda Nkomo is one of the agriculture extension workers working with the farmers on the production of black soldier fly larvae. Nkomo praises the women for being keen on the project and says through continuous experimenting, they have been able to come up with better substrates that are not smelly and also produce more and bigger larvae.
“We have imparted some basic knowledge to the farmers on how to produce BSF larvae, but we are also learning from them as they have been able to improve several things through their continuous experimenting. The beauty of the black soldier fly is that it carries no pathogens or microorganisms that can cause disease,” Nkomo says.
Commercial chicken feed is made mainly from soya bean which is a rich source of the much-needed protein for the growth of the chickens. But soya bean does not thrive in Gokwe because the area is dry. Black soldier fly larvae also have very high protein content but are relatively easier to produce and hence the desirability.
Irvin Mpofu is a specialist in stockfeed production and a lecturer at Chinhoyi University of Technology. He is one of the experts working with the villagers on the production of black soldier fly larvae.
Mpofu says the production of the black soldier fly larvae is still in infancy in Zimbabwe as compared to Kenya and South Africa, where small-scale farmers are producing up to one tonne of dried larvae per month, and some private producers make and an average of ten tonnes per month.
Mpofu, however, believes black soldier fly larvae production is viable in Zimbabwe and can be scaled up by improving the provision of technical support and funding for initial projects.
“Black soldier fly larvae production is sustainable in the Zimbabwe context for both smallholder farmers and private growers. The main enabling factors are the warm climate suitable for the breeding of the fly, then comes the fact that BSF thrives on organic waste streams which are generated at farm level and agro-processing factories. BSF completes the whole notion of a circular economy by utilizing waste from agriculture and creating value in the form of manure and proteins. The main pull factor for the smallholder farmers is the availability of waste streams from livestock and crops including those from gardens. The need to support indigenous poultry production is an attractive incentive,” Mpofu says.
Gokwe is one of Zimbabwe’s driest areas but it has traditionally been known as the country’s cotton-growing region. A combination of factors, including poor prices on one hand and increasing production costs on the other, have seen a decline in cotton farming, which in turn has left many locals impoverished as they have been struggling to diversify.
The production of the black soldier fly larvae has the potential to enable the farmers to transform their farming and not rely on a particular crop.
Besides producing black soldier fly larvae, the locals have also been taught to produce feed for other livestock, and this ability to produce their own stock feed is critical as it averts losses that often come due to the deaths of their animals especially during the dry months.
Although statistics are not readily available, the testimonies of some of the participants show that the project has helped improve the lives of many of those who are taking part.
The program under which the locals have been trained to produce the black soldier fly larvae is known as the Extended Training for Rural Agriculture (EXTRA) and has been implemented as part of the Livelihoods and Food Security Programme supervised by the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
EXTRA is a multi-faceted program that also teaches the communal farmers about basic finance including the establishment of Internal Savings and Lending schemes (ISALs) and Savings and Credit Cooperatives (SACCOs), as well as educating them on gender equality.