From Maggots to Millions: Biomimicking the Fly to Feed Humanity from its Waste in the 21st Century


  • Charlie Drew Durham University



biomimicry, consumer waste, Black Soldier Fly (BSF), non-human life, enclosure, violence


‘QUIET PLEASE: Flies are breeding‘”¦ reads the sign displayed on the factory breeding room. A female black soldier fly (BSF) is laying around 1500 tiny white eggs onto an industrially designed grid. Over 21 days, one kilogram of her eggs will hatch into eight tonnes of larvae, which will initiate a natural process of waste nutrient recycling as they feed on containers of organic consumer waste that would otherwise go to landfill. In a factory in one of Cape Town‘s rapidly developing post-apartheid townships, larvae are thus recycling some 250 tonnes of ‘pre‘ and ‘post‘ consumer waste every day, transforming negative value waste products into highly valuable insect protein, an alternative to fishmeal – an unsustainably ocean sourced protein. Ethnographic research in this factory explored this biomimically inspired innovation, which uses nature‘s purification agents – fly larvae – to revalorise a potentially harmful waste product into a critically important food source for the 21st Century. This paper argues that these industrially designed insect farms produce specific technologies and violent acts of reproductive enclosure. By incorporating debates about the role of naturally inspired solutions that use biological labour to accumulate value, it makes plain the ethical implications that emerge from mimicking and enclosing nature in this way. It contends that the ambition of the discipline of biomimicry to reunite human economies with natural ecologies is overshadowed by the logics of capitalism. While the outcomes of biomimicry may indeed be ecologically sustainable, capitalism‘s drive to privatise and profit from the knowledge and labour of nonhuman life means not only controlling animals and their products, but also controlling the processes of life through a constellation of scientific, bureaucratic and legal techniques.