YAP Proposal #29: “Feeding the Future of Fish” (Eric Katz, USA)

My name is Eric and I am a 20-year-old studying business at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business with a focus in operations and logistics. I co-founded an education startup called Graduate and worked as an intern for a tech startup in Detroit. I am also an editorial assistant for the social entrepreneurship website NextBillion.net, where I research analysis on emerging market social enterprises.

I met my Kenyan co-founder, Viraj, while working in the wildlife department at the Quinault Indian Nation. As he was sharing his experiences of growing up visiting a small coastal village in Kenya that has been ravaged economically and ecologically by ocean trawlers (trawling is a destructive form of industrial fishing), we decided that we had to do something to fight back against the trawlers.

A study from Stanford said, “If 50% of the world’s aquaculture industry would stop using fish meal, our oceans would be saved.” Our solution is to produce insects as an alternative protein base for fish farmers in Kenya. Our business is called Kulisha, which is the verb ‘to feed’ in Swahili, the national language of Kenya. That was how Kulisha was born.

While aquaculture in East Africa is booming, many small fish farms do not have access to adequate fish feed; either it is imported and prohibitively expensive, or it is inefficiently mixed on-site with unsustainably caught anchovies. Not only does this mixed feed distort ocean ecosystems, but it doesn’t provide all the nutrients needed for healthy fish growth.

Our idea, Kulisha, will provide a low-cost, high-quality sustainable fish feed made from black soldier fly larvae. We will sell dried insects to these rural fish farmers to replace the anchovies they are using to mix their own. In addition, we’ll produce a nutrient-rich fertilizer as a by-product from raising the insects which will be sold at a low cost to local crop farmers. It is our long term goal to formulate and sell our own feed.

Making animal feed from insects is revolutionary. The key problem with modern day aquaculture is that the current production of fish feed is both expensive and environmentally degrading. We will address both these issues, while stimulating a number of other positive externalities. Commercial insect production is a very novel sector and no companies are doing it in close collaboration with the local community.

We will work with the community to source organic waste such as old food scraps to feed the insects, thereby simultaneously addressing sanitation problems. Our system designs have a relatively low startup cost and use locally sourced materials, thus enabling easy technology transfer and scalability.

Kulisha will be modeled as a for-profit fish feed business. We’ll grow, harvest, and dry black soldier fly larvae; and grind them into a protein-rich meal. We’ll then sell this meal to farmers and eventually incorporate it into fish feed pellets to produce a final product.

We will establish a production facility near Nairobi. This facility will focus on the mass production of black soldier fly larvae (BSFL). We are working with black soldier fly researchers to develop this system. BSFL are native to Kenya and are not vectors for disease. Fish fed BSFL feed grew 18%-34% faster than alternative feed and it did not change the end quality or taste of the fish.

YAP Budget

We plan to have the system designed by April and built by June. We will take the next six months to scale up production to our goal of 1 metric ton per week. During that time, we will be testing our product. We have set a goal to bring our product to market by March 2017 and distribute through a retailer.

Please help play a role in feeding this revolutionary product into being by commenting your feedback below. Seriously, tell us what you think! We want to hear it!

(And check out our infographic and our website)

Blogpost, video and illustration submitted by Eric Katz (USA) – erickatz(at)umich.edu

The content, structure and grammar is at the discretion of the author only.


This post is published as proposal #29 of “YAP” – our “Youth Agripreneur Project”.

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237 thoughts on “YAP Proposal #29: “Feeding the Future of Fish” (Eric Katz, USA)

  1. To get it started, what do you think of specifically targeting fish farmers? Can you think of any other animals or applications where this protein base can be used? What other uses for insects can you think of in the foreseeable future? Do you know anyone who may be interested in this idea? What other ideas questions or suggestions do you have?

  2. It is a novel idea – using insects to feed fish! You want to make the feed more accesible to local farmers in Kenya. Is the alternative that you are offering, environmentally sustainable? Is the target market, fish farmers, addressable or what barries to entry do you expect? But good stuff I wish you all the best with your venture, it looks promising!

    1. Thanks for the comment! The alternative we’re offering is significantly more environmentally sustainable for a few main reason. First, the oceans are being significantly overfished which is causing drastic environmental and social problems such as holes in the ocean food web and decreased catch for people dependent on fishing as a source of livelihood. We will also be diverting waste that would be going to landfills, significantly reducing methane emissions.

    2. The barriers to entry that we expect is developing a proprietary system that mass produces black soldier fly. To overcome this we’re partnering with various experts in black soldier fly research to help design this system. We plan on increasing this barrier to entry by investing in and improving our process and focusing on insect production as our core competency. This enables us to build a barrier to entry for potential competitors by having a competitive advantage in our proprietary system.

  3. Love the idea! Will it help save our oceans from being overfished? How much money will it take to launch this idea? How long will it take to produce the final product from the larvae stage? Who are your competitors? Good luck….I’ll be watching!

    1. Yes, I’m glad you asked! About 30% of currently ocean trawled fish is used as a protein base for animal feed, so by replacing this with insect based protein, if we can scale our idea, will help decrease the need for trawled fish.

    2. We’re hoping to raise $50,000 to launch this, however, we’ve currently raised over $37,000 and you can see from the budget where the $5000 from this award would go.

    3. Our current major competitor is ‘Omena’ which is just trawled fish, generally anchovy or herring. However prices for this are continuing to rise and we can undercut their price.

      1. What distribution channels does Omena use? Do you plan on using the same sales approach or will you change how the farmers gain access to the feed? If you’re going to go off on your own way, you should consider a subscription service that is brought to each farmer rather than a store if the farmers’ need for feed doesn’t coincide with how often they go to whatever location you’d set up.

  4. Great idea and concept! I would love to hear more about how the community Involvement. How will they be involved at every level, and how will Kulisha provide both alternative income and have maximum impact on food supply?

    1. We plan on engaging the community by working with schools to teach students about the benefits of black soldier fly and educating them on how they can build their own small scale black soldier fly units that they can use to compost their old food waste. We will also hire community members as employees to help with the building and daily operations of the facility. We will also be testing our product with local hatcheries.

    2. Kulisha will provide an increase in income by it being a higher yielding product. Initial studies show that black soldier fly based feed can increase yields among Tilapia farmers, which is the primary fish almost all of our customers grow, by 18%-34%. These increased yields will not only increase the incomes of farmers, but because there are very little fish exports out of Kenya, will also increase the amount of animal protein and micronutrients going into a food insecure region.

  5. Great idea and concept, and what a powerful impact it could have! I would love to hear more about how the local community will be involved “at every level” and how Kulisha will be able to provide both alternate income source and maximum impact on food supply. Will teams be going into the community to teach production and to educate? How long will community support be available?

  6. This is a very interesting & cool concept. Great work ! Can’t wait to see how this develops and grows. Best of luck !!

  7. Happy to see another Thought For Food team here! What do you think the biggest challenge will be with scaling the business beyond Nairobi?

    1. Thanks! Good question, there are a few main issues we face, one is the logistical difficulty of transporting our product to different countries. Kenya has a unique climate that is excellent for insect production, so scaling production to some other countries might be difficult.

    2. Also we would need to do more research to determine how this protein base performs in the diets of the farmed animals in the countries we would expand to. Regulatory issues might also pose an issue in some countries as well.

  8. My question is on how you plan on marketing the product to farmers and ensure they know about it as an alternative fish feed? Good luck!

    1. So counties in Kenya have a government fisheries building that helps guide farmers through workshops, forums, discussions, etc. on how to optimize their fish production. We plan to work with these government buildings to share the benefits of our product, not only for the farmers, but also for the environment.

  9. Hey! cool idea and exciting possibilities! i have a couple of questions and suggestions… you asked for it!!!
    Are you supplying the BFL feed to fishfarmers all over Kenya, or specifically on the Kenyan coast? (if its just on the coast, why is the production facility in Nairobi?) Will the transport of the BFL be difficult to rural parts of Kenya? How do you transport them and is there a chance that they will turn into flies if left too long?! (excuse me if i have the idea all wrong.. just wondering if mismanagement can lead to CRAZY population increase!! – we don’t need any more flies in Kenya!) Where has this idea been used as fish feed historically? Have you had any feedback from Kenya about this idea?

    Can i suggest that you look into Sesbania sasban – a species of tree whose leaves and seeds have been used as a high protein fish feed in some parts of Kenya already. Perhaps incorporating alternative options such as this could create a more holistic approach to fish feed and educate locals of the abundance and value of the natural systems that surround them.
    Kenyans need to be given the opportunity to connect back to their roots and ecosystems, so that these processes are not only sustainable, but regenerative.. . So that this project can be one of many to give them the boost that they need to see that alternatives to the packet fish feed (or pesticide or GMO seed for that matter) are available —- locally!
    My wishes are with you on this journey and let me know if y’all need a hand on the ground.

    1. I think you understand our idea well! Hopefully I can clear up some of your questions. We plan on supplying the dried BSFL initially in Nairobi, and then expanding throughout Kenya. We plan on selling through retailers, but we still need to sort out the logistics of how to distribute to those retailers, once we expand throughout Kenya. However, initially we plan to work with only 1-2 retailers nearby in Nairobi.

    2. Because they are already all over Kenya, there is no major threat in environmental damage or major population changes for accidental release of flies. This is especially true because we will kill about 95% of the flies before they even reach the pupae stage, which also removes the chance that these larvae will turn into flies during transportation.

    3. Thanks for the feedback and advice! It’s always really interesting to hear what improvements can be made and we’re glad your willing to share them! The Sesbania sasban isn’t something we’ve heard of, but will definitely look into! We really appreciate it!

  10. Hey! awesome idea and exciting possibilities! i have some questions and suggestions..
    Are you planning on providing the BFL feed to fish farmers all over Kenya or specifically the Kenyan Coast? (if only the coast, why is the production facility in Nairobi?)
    Will transport of the BFL be difficult? How do you do it?!
    Is there a chance that the larva will turn into flies if mismanaged? (and lead to CRAZY overpopulation?)
    Has this idea been used elsewhere? have you had any feedback from Kenyan fish farmers about this idea? What do they think? (sorry if i misunderstood your explanation and these questions dont make sense!)
    I suggest that you look at the species Sesbania sesban – a fast growing plant with high protein leaves and seeds that have been used as fish feed around the world… Perhaps a more holistic approach will not only be sustainable, but regenerative.. if we design with culture and local ecosystem in mind, i think this idea will grow like fly larva!
    i’m really excited to see this project move forward! Please let me know if i can get involved on the ground!!

  11. Here’s an additional thought- why not run a symbiotic system where produce and fish are raised? Fish wastes are a natural fertilizer for the produce, while the produce buffer the water toxicity that the fish would build up if left on their own. Best of luck! – Chance

    1. This is an excellent idea and something we considered, however, we decided that as a business we should focus on our core competency of producing insects. It would also probably be more expensive for us to introduce another few steps to the production pipeline, might not produce enough waste, and run the risk of it being inconsistent and not generating the nutrient balance we’re looking for in our BSFL.

    2. But this is an excellent idea for someone who may just be trying to produce a small amount of BSFL and already have these waste generating systems! We really appreciate the feedback!

  12. This is awesome! It’s nice to see some real action being taken! Sustainable fish farms would make a HUGE difference in ocean conservation! Congrats and good luck!

  13. This is a really fantastic idea! Is there any potential negative side effect from utilizing food scraps as your insect feed, instead of something a little more standardized? For example, would the nutritional content of the fish feed change depending on the nutritional content of the food scraps fed to the insects prior to their production into fish food?

    1. You’re absolutely right. The nutrient profile of the insects changes based on what they are being fed so we are starting to look into more consistent feedstocks for BSFL that are produced by companies specializing in one product as opposed to general market waste.

  14. What a cool idea!! It’s clear that a lot of time and effort went into this project, and I’m sure it has the potential to generate great positive changes all around the world. I look forward to hearing more in the future

    1. In 5 years we hope to have expanded to major markets throughout Africa. We are also looking at the potential off moving into markets outside of Africa, both developing and developed. We believe that a good goal would to reach production capacity of many tons per week.

  15. This is a good idea, no two ways about it. Here is a question though, are there any foreseeable ecological consequences to the use of insects for fish feed? Is this the usual diet of the fish? if not, how different is it? how effective is it as a feed compared with anchovies?
    Thank you for indulging my questions

    1. There are no foreseeable ecological consequences to producing BSFL. They are native to Kenya (and various other regions around the world) in massive populations. Also, we let only a small portion of the larvae actually develop into flies and those we do are moved to an enclosure before they even hatch and will spend the rest of their 5-8 day life there.

    2. In the wild fish are consuming insects as the majority of their diet. In farms however, their diet is drastically changed, moving towards soy protein, which they’ll actually die from if given too much , and fish protein, which is not natural for many fish. Tilapia, the fish we’re targeting actually does eat fish in the wild, and eats bugs and worms as a large portion of its diet.

    3. BSFL based feed has actually showed increased yields when compared to current alternatives in preliminary studies. So it is not only more sustainable, but also a superior product.

  16. Amazing idea! My only challenge would be to thing BIGGER! I believe that majority of the trawlers are not Kenyan run and do not supply fish meal only to Kenya, and to actually have an environmental impact you will need to target the largest buyers of fish meal. Starting in Kenya is great and I think you can grow this beyond that. All the best!

    1. Thanks for the feedback! The goal to bring this worldwide and make it bigger, so our thoughts are definitely aligned. We believe that Kenya is an excellent beginning point, but that this product has excellent implications around the world!

    1. Insects can be used for feeding a variety of different animals and have been especially successful on swine, poultry, and fish. You can also use insects to make oil. Insects can even be fed to humans!

  17. Love that your business idea addresses economic, environmental, and social issues all at the same time. Best of luck to you and the entire team. A few questions:
    1) Do you know what percentage of fish used in fish meal is typically the target species vs. bycatch vs. farmed fish? Just curious the extent to which replacing fish meal with an alternative truly “saves” our oceans. I realize this may be more of a question for the team behind the Stanford study, but since it’s the primary inspiration behind Kulisha, I thought I’d ask!
    2) Are tilapia and other farmed fish natural predators of black soldier flies? Would a diet based on BSFL be more or less balanced for fish than the current meal? Would it change the nutritional value of the end fish for humans?
    3) What concerns do you have around mass production of BSFL for the local environment? What are the local predators/controls for black soldier flies? Would that ecological balance be impacted at all if black soldier flies became more abundant (even if only in your facility)?
    4) What is the environmental footprint of your proposed facility and how would you reduce pollution and other negative externalities?
    5) Could BSFL be used for animal feed besides fish? Is anyone mass producing BSFL for any other types of animal feed?

    Looking forward to your answers, and good luck with the competition! Exciting stuff!

    1. 2) Tilapia and other farmed fish are not natural predators of BSF because BSF stay away from water. However, other water based insects and other larvae are critical and primary parts of tilapia’s diet in the wild. It difficult to say more or less balanced because you can create a nutritionally balanced fish feed with trash fish, however, insects would be a more natural way to achieve that. We have not done research into the end nutritional value of the fish, although theoretically it shouldn’t change because you can achieve the same key nutrient balance as alternative feeds.

    2. 3) We are not concerned about mass production of BSFL for the local environment because they will be completely contained, and very few will be allowed to progress to the fly stage because they are harvested in the larvae stage. Also, there are other organization producing BSFL that haven’t run into any issues. If they were to be accidentally released there are wasps and other fly eating insects that would keep their population numbers in check and the adult life span is only 5-8 days.

    3. 4) We are running our facility without any energy inputs, so the ecological input of our facility will be essentially 0 besides the minuscule amount of GHG emissions that BSFL produce. Those emissions can even be utilized as a biogas down the road. There are no other known negative externalities.

    4. 5) Yes! BSFL have been particularly successful in preliminary tests with poultry and swine, but can be used as a protein base in many other animal feed. There are a 3 other major companies we’ve identified mass producing BSFL.

  18. Best of luck to you in the competition! I love that Kulisha addresses economic, environmental, and social issues all at the same time.

  19. This is amazing! I wonder if you could extract oil from the larvae and convert it into biodiesel…? So many possibilities.

  20. Such a revolutionary idea propelled by an amazing team! Can’t wait to see the incredible global impact Kulisha makes.

  21. I remember when Maya told me about this idea during the Winter Break Project – it is highly appealing, and I wish you the best of luck!
    Since this venture looks like it is going to need a lot of active interaction with locals, how so you plan to integrate them into your growth scheme? Or more precisely, are you focused on incubating/developing the technology and later train and help local fish farmers produce their own fish feed, or continue producing and marketing the feed through retail outlets?

    1. To answer your more precise questions, we plan to continue to produce and market our feed through our retail outlets. For this reason, our community engagement is more marketing focused where we hope to take an educational approach and inform the community member of the benefits of switching to BSFL feed.

    2. Thanks Sherab!
      Great questions. We are definitely aiming for a high degree of community involvement. For starters, we’ll be hiring members from the local community to manage the facility while we’re not there. In the future, we’d love to develop a training program to disseminate the technology and build capacity among small-scale farmers. We also plan on creating an education campaign and getting schools involved.

  22. This is such a wonderful and exciting idea! I was wondering, why was Nairobi in particular chosen as the start-up point for Kulisha? Do you have plans to expand the project to other places? If so, where next? I wish you guys the best of luck and really hope you get the funding you need!

    1. We have chosen Nairobi for two main reasons. The first is due to the excellent climate for growing BSFL. The second is because of our excellent connections there because that is where our co-founder, Viraj, is from.

    2. We do hope to expand to other regions, but right now we’re unsure as to where we’d like to go next. We’d first like to expand in to other African countries where the aquaculture industry is relatively similar.

    3. Thanks Ella! We really appreciate it. We’ve chosen to start in Nairobi for three reasons: first, Viraj is from there, so he’s familiar with the area and speaks fluent Swahili. Unlike the US, the EU, and Canada, there are also no legal regulations in Kenya banning the use of insects in animal feed. Lastly, aquaculture in Kenya is booming – increased fourfold in the last six years – but there is a huge need for a better-quality, less-expensive source of feed. We definitely plan to expand to neighboring geographic areas, and maybe even to other faraway places, like Costa Rica!

  23. This is an amazingly innovative idea, have you considered using locusts or other pest swarming insects? Especially as the supply is effectively infinite during the season.

    1. We haven’t considered that because we plan on growing the insects ourselves and not catch them from the wild. Additionally, BSFL grow very quickly and have already proven successful when used in animal feeds.

  24. This is an amazing idea! Have you also considered using other swarming interests such as locust? Seeing as the supply is effectively infinite it could be game changing

  25. I love this idea! It sounds like a good alternate way of achieving results in a more natural and not damaging way. However, I am curious. You talk about how the process is not environmentally degrading and I am wondering about packaging/,transportation logistics. In what type of container are you going to transport the final product? What would be the next step for these containers? How are you going to ensure that the packaging and transportation of the product is as environmentally friendly as possible? I wish a lot of success for this project and I hope to hear a lot more about Kulisha in the future. Best of lucks!!

    1. Those are excellent points and things we’re currently looking into. Packaging is something we’re unsure, but it is critical that we find a way to do it that’s environmentally friendly as possible. We would need to include information that informs the customer of what they should do with the packaging when it’s done.

    2. As far as distribution goes, I believe the best thing we can due is optimize our delivery routes to our retailers and ensure that we are making as few deliveries as possible by clearly identifying shelf life and working to anticipate demand.

  26. Well I’ll be damned, I think this product just may be a real winner. You say you are 20??? Young men like you restore my faith in the younger generation. Kudos to you, my child. May God bless you and your fishy invention. BYS.

  27. Great project! I love the name Kulisha- it rolls out of your tongue… Very melodic.
    I am wondering what is your competitive edge against the three large already existing companies of BSFL?
    I am also wondering if you have made cost comparisons between running the business in Kenya vs, say, Costa Rica?

    1. We hope to establish a competitive edge is in two main ways. The first is designing our system to run without energy and with low cost materials. This not only decreases our operating costs, but makes this business more transportable to other developing countries. The second is by developing relationships with retailers and fish farmers so that we can sell our processed products directly to consumers, which the other companies aren’t doing. This will give us strong brand equity and more easily allow us to expand to other insect based product lines as we scale.

    2. We haven’t, but I’m curious in what ways you think the costs would be different? I can’t think of anything besides wage differences and cost of material differences. We are focused in Kenya currently because of our relationships and connections within the country.

  28. It’s a fascinating and innovative idea. Feeding the world’s human population while providing a minimum impact on related eco-systems is such a hugely important issue. A real cause for optimism. Good luck with this!

  29. Fantastic project! and I agree with Mariah – love the name! the sound and the meaning. Community focussed projects are so inspiring – this one particularly so! Best of luck to all of you.

  30. Great idea! I can see the potential in helping people in Kenya and in many other aquatic based economic areas. It will be a blessing to many people.

  31. Wow – my partner and I produce around 50 tons of tilapia a year in Costa Rica. We were talking one day and I commented that we needed to find alternative sources of fish feed – with climate change the anchovies could disappear one day. And I had this brilliant idea to use black soldier flies!! I guess this falls under the 100 monkey theory… Good luck to you!!

    1. Wow that’s really crazy! Well we hope to bring the power of BSFL worldwide! It’s always good to see that this idea has positive implications worldwide.

  32. My entire class is so intrigued by this idea I love the entire concept!! I hope this takes off and the public supports this cause 🙂

  33. THIS IS AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  34. This is a great idea. I hope you have great success. This might just change the world. Best of luck to you both!

  35. This is such an amazing, brilliant, and practical idea! I really admire your practical approach to design a sustainable fish feed!

  36. Wishing you all the best in Switzerland this week! May your team learn a ton, get envigorated and inspired! May You get funded.

  37. Very impressive, exciting and needed project. Congratulations to you and good luck. I look forward to keeping up as you progress.

  38. Nice!
    I am really interested in this topic. Could you please give me the references of this stanford study? I would love to read it, but I can’t find it.

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