She runs Singapore's first local insect farm that upcycles food waste.
Chua Kai-Ning stands surrounded by buzzing flies, but she barely bats an eyelid. Unlike most of her cohort who have parlayed their degree in English linguistics into a career in academia, Chua has chosen the path of an insect farmer.
A shareholder in Insectta and its head of marketing communications, the 24-year-old and her colleagues have made headlines for their farm’s innovative practices since its founding in 2017. Located in residential Queenstown, it is the first urban insect farm in Singapore to rear the native Black Soldier Fly.
Typically found in forested areas, the species does not bite, sting or bother people. Each pair of flies — there are more than a million in the mating chamber — lay between 600 to 800 eggs. Their hatched larvae are voracious eaters that turn 7.5 tonnes of food waste each month into 2,700 litres of organic fertiliser. Some 300kg of the high-protein larvae are also sold as animal feed monthly.
Now only at one-third capacity, Insectta expects to hit full stride by year’s end.
“Insect farming, as a concept, is quite new. Unlike cow or chicken farming where the challenge is to make it more productive or sustainable, with insect farming, we are inventing the wheel, so to speak,” explains Chua. “R&D drives our operations.”
Beyond producing high quality agricultural products, Insectta’s aim is to create an economy where nothing is wasted.
“Our business model is to take a negative value product, which is food waste that drains the economy, and turn it into positive value products like our larvae and fertiliser,” Chua shares.
At present, the waste that the larvae process are collected from soyabean shops and microbreweries. The okara and spent grains represent just a fraction of the 763,100 tonnes thrown out by households and the food industry in 2018.
“With resources dwindling, soon we will go green not because it’s trendy but because we have no other choice,” says Chua.
“My generation is more mindful and aware of our habits. And the great thing about Singapore is that we can tap on the brain power and high standards that the young have.”
For more on trailblazing leaders, read our series on alphas here.