17 Aug 2018
Tunis, Tunisia
Organic Food and Agriculture

Raising livestock for human consumption has a huge environmental impact. Most of the animals grown to feed the human population, such as pigs, cows, and chickens, are fed a diet of corn and soybeans. Not only is this food not natural for these animals, resulting in the overuse of antibiotics, it also causes deforestation and an increased use of pesticides. Plus, to feed our planet’s growing population, food production must increase 70% by 2050. Two entrepreneurs are trying to change the way we feed livestock, so animal production is safer and less detrimental to the environment.

Syrine Chaalala was working as an Emergency Operations Specialist with the United Nations in Madagascar when a light bulb went off in her head. She’d been responding to a humanitarian crisis; locusts had invaded the country, wiping out crops, leaving people starving. The only solution was to use pesticides to get rid of the locusts, which in turn, made even more of the crops inedible. Chaalala started thinking about insects and their benefits, including their high protein content and how they’re one of the least exploited resources on the planet.

“At first, my husband and I started brainstorming ways to feed people with insects, but we realized there’s no market for it yet. It’s a [bit] niche; people might serve crickets at a party for fun, but people aren’t interested in eating bugs on a mass scale yet,” says Chaalala. “On the other hand, it would be much more accepted as an animal feed.”

An idea bloomed between Chaalala and her engineer husband, Mohamed Gastli. They wanted to figure out a way to make livestock feed from insects. Plus, they wanted to start a company that allowed them to spend more time together. With the UN, Chaalala was always traveling, and her husband lived in Paris, working as an engineer and a music producer.

“We wanted to find something that combines both of our passions, and that allows us to live on the same continent, in the same country,” says Chaalala.

So, like any good startup, the couple started experimenting in their garage in Tunisia under an Ikea tent, and nextProtein was born in 2014.

How nextProtein makes food out of insects:

Solving the problem of just how to mass produce animal feed from insects isn’t an easy one. Chaalala and Gastli researched and experimented before they settled on the black soldier fly, which provides high yield with a short reproductive cycle. The couple found out they can feed the flies organic waste.

“One-third of human food is thrown away into the landfills,” says Chaalala. “So for us, it was important to choose an insect that wouldn’t be taking away from human food, but an insect that would allow us to reuse wasted product and reintegrate it back into the food cycle.”

The insects are grown into larvae, and then turned into two products: nextProtein, a protein powder, and nextOil, after extraction. A third product is nextGrow, a natural fertilizer.

In the years since its inception, nextProtein has grown out of its early garage headquarters. The company first went to a 300-square-meter spot on a farm, and finally, to a 3,000-square-meter plant, where they’ve been producing nextProtein for the past year.

“We are creating a whole new industry,” says Chaalala. “Our first market is Europe, and so far, we are certified to create products to feed fish and pets. Our next goal is to get certified to feed livestock such as chickens and pigs. Our process is so natural that no hormones or antibiotics are introduced during the rearing, and this makes for healthier livestock.”

Experts around the world understand the need for a different source of food for livestock.

“Our data can allow us to see more clearly where we can work with livestock keepers to improve animal diets so they can produce more protein with better feed while simultaneously reducing emissions,” Petv Havlik, a research scholar at IIASA and co-author of a study on the impact livestock has on the environment, told TIME magazine.

The growth of nextProtein and plans for the future:

Investors have taken note of nextProtein and the world of good it’s trying to do for the environment. So far, the company has secured 1.3million  in funding, and are hoping to get 10million more moving forward.

“We have amazing angel investors,” says Chaalala. “Andrew Heinz, of Heinz ketchup, is one of them, plus, we have prominent Silicon Valley and European investors, such as Xavier Niel from Free and Station F. We also work with a fundraising platform Anaxago in France.”

Building a sustainable form of animal feed has been a lot of hard work for the couple, but they both feel good about what they’ve accomplished so far.

For Chaalala, doing good things for the environment is important, a necessity of life.

“Since childhood, I’ve always wanted to do something positive. I lived for a while in Kenya, which made me conscious of what’s going on in the world. And working with the UN I’ve seen what natural disasters do to countries and that really opened my eyes to climate change. When you see firsthand the people affected by disasters and the starving children, you can’t go on with your day and do nothing about it.”

 

Learn more about nextProtein through their website and Facebook page.

Photos: Courtesy of nextProtein.

Kristin Hanes is a journalist who has a passion for the environment, sustainability, and science. She loves telling stories about people who are making a real difference in the world.Kristin Hanes
From bug to bite: converting insects into animal feed in Tunisia | The Switchers
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