MealFlour is a social enterprise that provides trainings on how to build and maintain mealworm farms so that they can produce a protein rich flour from dry roasted mealworms. Our mission is to empower communities to address serious health problems related to protein deficiency while also acknowledging the interconnected issues of low income and environmental impact.
We are currently working on our pilot in our flagship site in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. The rural Mayan community Candelaria is our first area of focus.
In July 2016, MealFlour began working with the women in the Primeros Pasos nutrition program in Candelaria and provided them with free samples of mealworm flour products along with lessons on the importance of protein, information about mealworms, and instructions on building and maintaining the farms. The mealworm products were well received, 57% of the women expressed interest in learning how to make their own farms in the future, and the remaining 43% expressed interest once they were provided more information.
We completed our training program in Candelaria in December 2016. The training consists of a 6-week course with 6 modules: Week 1: Introduction to mealworms and farming, Week 2: Constructing the farms and mealworm distribution, Week 3: Farm maintenance, Week 4: Preparing the mealworm powder, Week 5: Cooking class; making pancakes with mealworm powder, Week 6: Wrap-up and Graduation.
In the next six months, we will work with the women in Candelaria to design mealworm farms from the materials readily available to them and to optimize growing mealworms with food scraps, such as banana peels and apple cores. When the farms begin producing a regular supply of mealworms we will teach the women how to turn them into a powder that can be easily incorporated into tortillas, cookies, or any flour-based product. Once the mealworm cycle is stable, the women can take full ownership of their farm and choose how much of the flour they produce they will sell to their community ornat markets. Throughout these months, while the community farms are being optimized, we will continue to build on our relationship with local schools and the bakery to introduce mealworm powder products to the city of Xela and other villages in the rural outskirts.
MealFlour also runs a train-the-trainer crash course program in coordination with its partner NGO PEILE. In November and December 2016, MealFlour introduced mealworm farming to 43 aspiring teachers from around the western highlands of Guatemala. During the crash course, participants learn about the importance of protein and why mealworms are a good source of protein, build model farms from upcycled materials that they bring from home, and prepare a snack that incorporates mealworm powder. This three-day crash course allows MealFlour to spread to different communities because it identifies individuals who want to bring the full program to their home towns. In addition to working with these individuals, MealFlour is continuing to collaborate with PEILE to bring MealFlour to more communities throughout Guatemala.
How does your innovation work?
MealFlour is a social enterprise to promote better nutrition through the sustainable farming of protein-rich mealworms.
Mealworms are the larva of the darkling beetle, contain high levels of essential amino and fatty acids, and mealworm powder is 55.4% protein. Growing mealworms is easy and requires minimal food, space, or water. The farm structure consists of three stacked bins, which allows for the separation of life stages. This structure can easily be made from up-cycled materials such as water jugs. The top bin contains beetles, and the mesh bottom allows eggs to fall through to the second bin. Once mealworms hatch in the second bin they are moved into the third where they continue to grow for 6-8 weeks until they are 2.5 cm in length. At this point, they are collected, roasted, and ground up to make the protein rich mealworm flour.
We teach communities how to build these farms while working with them to identify which materials are best suited to their community. During our training we also explain what to feed the mealworms, how to clean the farms and collect the frass to be used as fertilizer, and how to process the mealworms into a protein rich powder.
Our follow-up process fosters collaboration between MealFlour staff and community members in order to optimize the yield of each mealworm farm and to share different recipes that participants come up with to incorporate mealworm powder into their diets.
What Evidence do you have that your Innovation works?
We succesfully completed our first round of trainings in Candelaria in December 2016. All five participants are continuing to maintain their farms, and since then we have been approached by other women in Candelaria interested in participating in the program as well as members of other communities in the Palajunoj Valley.
Do you have current users or testers?
We are currently collaborating with the Primeros Pasos clinic in Quetzaltenango which runs a nutrition program and an education program. Their existing community contacts are allowing us to meet with the community and launch our pilot. We have also started working with PEILE which runs vocational training programs throughout Guatemala.
We have also started planning a pilot with the NGO CEDNA, which works in Cusco, Peru to improve nutrition and economic opportunities.
What is your strategy for expanding use of your innovation?
Once the mealworm farmers have built their farms and received their starter pack of mealworms it will be completely self sustaining as long as food scraps like banana peels continue to be supplied on a daily basis, making this project completely sustainable. In fact, once the farmers are producing excess flour, they can sell it to bakeries, or other community members, thereby making a profit while reducing rates of malnutrition. These profits can then be used by the farmers to expand their operations by improving and growing their farms, or they can use the extra income for other health and education expenses.
Our path to scale out of Candelaria and into the other communities surrounding Xela is paved by the nutrition program’s relationship with the other communities. To expand to these areas, we will repeat the model that we refine in Candelaria and run more training programs. To expand beyond Quetzaltenango we will rely on establishing partnerships and collaborations with other institutions.
We are currently working with organizations that already address malnutrition and economic empowerment to ensure that the program can rapidly scale up. Partnering with groups that are already well-known and established within the community is central to MealFlour’s expansion model, because it ensures acceptance and also minimizes the amount of resources that MealFlour itself needs in order to bring its training to those who need it.
We are working on optimizing the yields of the farms in Candelaria and seeking out partners interested in our program who would like to set up a test farm.
Setting up a test farm is the first step to expanding to a new community, and in 2017 we have established 2 in different communities. A test farm allows us to troubleshoot and determine how to modify the mealworm farm for a new climate.
We are also working on developing a train-the-trainer program so that we can widen our impact.