By Gopal Sharma
BHARDEV, Nepal (Reuters) - In a village a little over an hour's drive from Nepal's capital of Kathmandu, six women wearing yellow rubber gloves and surgical masks work in a shed, gently squeezing the wet larvae of the black soldier fly into small plastic containers.
Another woman slices pears and wilted vegetables to feed the insects, known more commonly as BSF, that are held in two plastic cages equipped with thermal panels for artificial light and heat to maintain the required temperature inside the tin-roofed 800-square-foot shed.
The protein-rich insect eggs are dried and processed into feed for fish, chicken and pigs, and will sell at 70 Nepali rupees (about $0.55 cents) a kilo.
Opened in March with a $110,000 grant provided by the Women's Bank, Finland, through the charity Federation of Women Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal, the fly farm is billed as the first of its kind in the Himalayan nation.
It is owned and operated by the women, all members of a "Sisters Group" in Bhardev, a small village with a population of about 2,500 people, 30 km (19 miles) south of the capital.
Nepal is among the world’s ten poorest countries, and people in villages are mainly subsistence farmers. The economic condition of women is especially vulnerable, with no extra source of income or employment other than on their tiny family farms.
The average salary of civil servants in Nepal is barely about $300 a month, so the money to be made from fly larvae is clearly a step forward from the village women.
They expect to be harvesting 3,500 kg of larvae in one production cycle, which ranges between 45 and 60 days.
"It is a model green business to provide additional income to women without requiring them to invest all their time in it and is environmentally friendly," charity official Jeebesh Bikram Adhikary said.
"We are experimenting whether the BSF can be harvested in the extreme cold and adverse climatic conditions," Adhikary said.
"The results so far have been good and we are looking to expand the facility to Chitwan or Kailali in future," he said referring to two regions in Nepal's southern plains, where the climate is more favorable.
Ramesh Shrestha runs a small fish farm and is ready to become a customer.
"I can buy up to 50 kgs of the feed every day if the farm is able to supply," he said.
Mana Maya Shrestha, who is among the women leading and managing the farm, said their current customers are mainly poultry farmers.
The 47-year-old said some women did not want to engage in this type of business. To begin with, she found touching the insect and its eggs "disgusting".
"I am used to it now," the mother of two said.
"I enjoy the sensation when they wiggle."
(Reporting by Gopal Sharma, editing by Shilpa Jamkhandikar & Simon Cameron-Moore)