Locusts driving you loco? If so, you just might be a farmer in Pakistan! The South Asian nation of 212.5 million people is currently suffering a plague of biblical proportions: locusts, to be exact. The ravenous, migrating swarms of the 2019–20 Locust Infestation are thought to have originated in the Rub’ al Khali (“Empty Quarter”) region of Saudi Arabia, a severe desert area that enjoyed a short period of heavy rains in 2018.
By June of 2019, swarms of Desert Locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) had spread to Pakistan and neighboring nations. The so-called “plagues” of locusts – yes, that is the official term – continued into 2020. With remediation efforts being hampered by restrictions imposed due to the current COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, one might say, “when it rains, it pours”.
Repeated waves of locusts comprising the worst such infestation in 25 years are hitting Pakistani farmers, not to mention the country itself, right in the breadbasket. As the use of pesticides to protect food crops is problematic, authorities have been scrambling to find workable remedies. One idea inspired by efforts undertaken in war-torn Yemen is to EAT the varmints, which have been determined to be Halal under Islamic law. Not everyone is into eating bugs, however. A pilot project set up by Muhammad Khurshid of Pakistan’s Ministry of National Food Security and Research, and Johar Ali, a biotechnologist from the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, cleverly tweaks the Yemeni concept: instead of eating the locusts directly, process them into chicken feed!
The project was initiated in the Okara district of eastern Pakistan’s Punjab province, a fertile farming district where farmers had not yet used any pesticides. Hard-pressed villagers were encouraged to gather as many locusts as possible once the swarms land, after which the insects were dried, shredded, and mixed into chicken feed. The farmers were rewarded with cash bounties for their efforts and the chickens, well, they really can’t complain: dried locust meal contains roughly 62% protein, 17% fat, and boasts a varied complement of nutritious vitamins and minerals. (images via Niv Singer)
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