We talked to Salamahafifi Yusnaieny of Protenga about insects, and she had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Salamahafifi Yusnaieny: We’re doing well. I haven’t been able to see my complete family for a while now due to border closures, but thankful we’re healthy and still connected digitally.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined Protenga.
Salamahafifi Yusnaieny: How I joined Protenga is a reflection of life making plans for me when I had many other plans for myself. I was already planning to set up my own organic chicken farm, in discussions with partners, viewing space, looking at market feasibility, and studying feed options.
I had randomly met the founder of Protenga, Leo Wein, at his insect farm when I was curious, exploring farms. We went for coffee to talk about edible insects, but our discussion diverted to religion, women’s rights, and education for two hours. Little did I know that it turned out to be a job interview that I never applied for. Leo invited me to join the company, and as I was busy with my own endeavors, I declined the offer. A few months later, I became one of the early employees managing multiple projects from regulatory to products to people, procurement, bookkeeping, pet food, website, just about everything. There is no typical day. Working in a startup means you must be able to wear and change many hats (or hijab, for me).
How does Protenga innovate?
Salamahafifi Yusnaieny: Protenga is Making Insects Work For You. There will be an additional 3 billion people in the world in thirty years – and everybody needs to eat. This means more land needs to be cleared to make room for livestock/poultry and vegetable/crops farming, which also equates to (chemical) fertilizer run-off into the seas, oceans. Overfishing occurs too! At the same time, while we are farming and growing more food, 30% of food goes to waste – at all levels of production. Protenga sees insects as the solution to manage the food waste problem. Instead of food waste going to the landfill or dumped to compost, insects add value to it by bioconverting the waste into high-quality insect protein, oil, and frass. These insect products are great as nutritious animal feed and organic plant fertilizers.
To fully have an impact, we need to have more insects to do the work. Our Smart Insect Farm is a decentralized, insect bioconversion system we developed to provide waste management solutions to more biomass owners. Protenga then buys-back the insects, which we further process into insect products for distribution. Our innovation maximizes the value of biomass, also making better feed for better food.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Salamahafifi Yusnaieny: The animal feed industry is categorized as “Essential”; hence we are allowed to operate as usual. The Covid-19 has directly impacted our timelines and delivery targets, but we are still on track. We’re currently hiring, looking for talented Engineers to be the “Smart” behind Smart Insect Farm. Visit our website for details on how to apply.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Protenga in the future?
Salamahafifi Yusnaieny: Managing stress and anxiety, to me, is recognizing they are thoughts – that is their form. It is not forcing positive thinking onto myself, but it is a deep knowing that I cannot change my thoughts the same way I cannot control first impressions or feelings. I can, however, challenge how I think about my thoughts. Not all ideas that come into my head are true or necessary to be entertained or taken seriously. So I don’t try to change my mind when I recognize I am feeling stressed or anxious; I am training myself to catch my thoughts and put thinking behind them. Usually, I would do what’s common sense next – take a nap or go for a walk.
For the company, I see the bigger picture. I strongly believe in driving the change in the food system, and I know it is these small parts I am working on today that will have a big impact tomorrow. Nature has already been showing us how they do it, with insects recycling nutrients, being food for animals, and being the fundamentals of rich ecosystems. Answers are always around us when we actually get up to observe.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Salamahafifi Yusnaieny: All of us have a mission towards a more sustainable world. For me personally, I do not see other businesses in the industry as competitors but as parallel drivers towards our common goal. Industries are replicable; technologies can be learned and adopted. I stay in the game to focus on our end goal and recognize we all have a part to play. As part of sustainability, it is not about building the biggest factories but about what can drive a bigger impact. Small but meaningful.
Your final thoughts?
Salamahafifi Yusnaieny: The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of food security, as movement restrictions have affected the food supply chain – food processing, farming, logistics where operations had to be reduced to contain the pandemic. I hope this has raised the awareness for us to think more about where our food comes from and the impact the complex global food supply chain has on the environment. It is now more than ever to look at what’s around us and to support our local farmers/stakeholders more.