Could maggots fuel high-protein sports drinks? This SA startup thinks so

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Getty Images

A South African startup aims to produce high-quality protein powder from maggots for use in food products and sports drinks by the end of the year.

By doing so, it will become the first company in Africa to make insect protein for human consumption.

South African rivals currently harvest larvae from the black soldier fly to supply animal and fish feed. Protein from the maggots can be harvested sustainably as the flies are fed on waste, reducing the need for landfills and helping to slow climate change.

Susento, owned partly by Stellenbosch University, near Cape Town, and entrepreneurs connected to the institution, is seeking to raise R12 million this month to help it set up production facilities in the Eastern Cape province.

"It's the first round of financing," said Elsje Pieterse, a lecturer in the Department of Animal Sciences at the university and part owner of Susento, which is an abbreviation for sustainability through entomology.

The powder "doesn't really have a taste or smell to it, it could be used in savoury or sweet" food such as chocolate, she said.

The protein is high quality and a one-hectare insect farm can produce 7 500 times more than a soy farm of the same size, according to Pieterse.

The new facility is expected to start production by December and will aim to harvest 30 tonnes of product a month. Susento already makes about three tonnes monthly at the university's Mariendahl experimental farm outside Stellenbosch, mainly for use in pet food.

The company may also use the farm for so-called bioplastic from chitin, the material that makes up the exoskeleton of the fly larvae, Pieterse said.

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