Published on Nasikiliza

Could food, feed and fertilizer production by farming insects be a way for refugees and host communities to move from surviving to thriving?

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Benoit and Herve, two refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo who live in Tongogara refugee camp in Zimbabwe, show black soldier fly larvae. Benoit and Herve, two refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo who live in Tongogara refugee camp in Zimbabwe, show black soldier fly larvae.

Displaced people bring skills, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit to host communities everywhere, including in Africa. Unfortunately, refugee crises are not temporary. Most refugees do not expect to be displaced for long, but in reality displacement lasts more than a decade. As a result, it is essential to address longer-term development needs to complement short-term humanitarian assistance. Investing in food and agriculture is an effective long-term strategy to create jobs, build livelihoods, and create benefits for both the displaced and the communities that host them. 

A new World Bank publication, Insect and Hydroponic Farming in Africa: The New Circular Food Economy, outlines the  benefits of expanding frontier agricultural technologies within a circular food economy in fragile, conflict and violence-affected settings in Africa. In particular, it shows how insect farming can create jobs, diversify livelihoods, and improve access to nutrition.

Each year the number of new entrants and markets for insects around the world increases. It is estimated that the global market for insects as food and animal feed will be worth up to $8 billion by 2030, a 24% annual growth rate over the next decade.  About 2 billion people globally consume insects, including in Africa. Insects are more environmentally sustainable than other animal proteins and more nutritious than soybean protein. They provide nutritious human food and animal feed, including protein, zinc, iron, and calcium; and organic fertilizers. But currently, insects are mainly collected in the wild.

Farming insects can provide a healthy and all-year protein supply of nutritious food for humans, fish, and livestock in both conventional and non-conventional food production locations such as in arid areas, cities and refugee settings, while at the same time conserving biodiversity and other essential natural resources. We can feed insects with organic waste, such as household, agriculture, or brewery waste while reducing GHG emissions and creating climate-resilient livelihoods and increase food security. Refugee settlements has a large amount of good organic waste. Then, the waste from insects can  be fed back into the food system as organic fertilizer. This innovative approach can strengthen the African food system, and fits a circular economy that can complement conventional farming.

Insect farming technologies can also save farmers money and government’s hard currency reserves by decreasing imports of food, feed, and fertilizer.  Operations can be established at low cost, opening up opportunities for climate-resilient jobs, including for women, youth, and refugees who often live in locations with limited resources. In 13 African countries, there are already 850 insect farms that produce insects for food, feed, and fertilizers. Imagine collecting 30% of agriculture waste of the top five crops in the top 10 African agriculture economies and feeding it to Black Soldier Flies. This would result in:

  • replacing 60 million tons of traditional fish and soy-based-animal feed
  • creating 15 million direct and indirect jobs; incomes, and livelihoods, along the value chain, and
  • reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of taking 18 million cars off the road annually

Other benefits include:

  • Improved sustainability of local food systems and natural resources because of little water requirements and no arable land is needed
  • Improved soil health through application of organic fertilizers consisting of the insect manure (frass) produced during the insect farming proces
  • Improved peacebuilding and resilience to fragility, conflict, and violence through the creation of more stable and sustainable food system that pro­vide economic opportunities and require fewer natural resources

Displaced populations have an entrepreneurial spirit and want to work. Before migrating, many often worked in agriculture and food sectors. People who used to farm want to apply their skills but often lack local access to arable land, knowledge, and resources. New technologies such as insect farming does not require arable land or limited water resources. Providing access to this technology is where the development community can make a difference. Beyond the obvious economic and nutritional benefits, this can also have important social and psychological benefits for displaced individuals.

Developing insect farming practices provides displaced people with practical skills that can enable and sustain livelihoods and be an asset where they are and once they return home. The World Bank and UNHCR are currently starting pilot projects of insect farming for food and feed in Kenya, Malawi, South Sudan and Zimbabwe, with plans to expand in 2023. This will contribute to alleviating the world’s food and nutrition security crisis.


Dorte Verner

Lead Agriculture Economist in Food and Agriculture Global Practice (GFADR)

Line Astrom

UNCHR, Senior Livelihoods and Economic Inclusion Officer

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