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Urban Farmers with a Circular Mission - CNBC Feature

Updated: Jun 21, 2021

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  • Singapore’s first urban insect farm, Insectta, is a biotech start-up extracting valuable biomaterials from the black soldier fly.

  • With the challenges of climate change and a growing population, research and development has become critical in helping overcome threats to sustainability with the help of technology.

SINGAPORE — Thousands of wriggling larvae won’t deter this self-declared “urban farmer.”

Chua Kai-Ning is one of the founders of Singapore’s first urban insect farm, Insectta — a high-tech farm that rears the black soldier fly to help turn food waste into biomaterials for industrial use.

“The black soldier fly is a way to contribute to what we call the circular economy, where we produce things without anything going to waste,” said the 26-year-old, who has a background in English linguistics.

Some in Singapore are turning to urban farming in this land-scarce city, as they look for high-tech ways to turn waste into useful resources.

Chua is one of them.

We are not only reimagining what we farm, but what we get out of the farming process.


“Their superpower is their ability to consume food waste,” she said of the black soldier fly, regularly scooping up a handful of writhing insects with her bare hands throughout the farm visit.

“A kilo of larvae can go through four kilograms of waste in just 24 hours,” she said, explaining that pre-consumer food waste — primarily soybean leftovers and spent grain from the beer-brewing industry — is fed to the larvae.

But the work doesn’t stop there.

Insectta’s co-founder and chief technology officer Phua Jun Wei demonstrating water-soluble melanin derived from their black soldier fly larvae.

From the insect farm, the trays of larvae are transported to a laboratory on the other side of the island state. There, biomaterials are extracted from the larvae and used to produce valuable substances for electronics, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, such as chitosan and melanin.

The future of urban agriculture, Chua maintained, is in deep technology. Deep tech companies are often start ups founded on scientific and engineering breakthroughs, aimed at harnessing technology to address environmental or societal challenges.

“We are not only reimagining what we farm, but what we get out of the farming process.”

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