As millions of locusts attack the breadbasket regions of Pakistan, a pilot project in the country comes up with a smart idea. The project offers an innovative solution in which farmers will earn money by trapping locusts that will further be turned into high-protein chicken feed by animal feed mills
Locusts have become a serious threat to India and Pakistan as they continue to destroy crops. The government of Pakistan has approved a National Action Plan for locust control and airborne spraying of some 300,000 liters of insecticide is taking place. But this is not the solution, the chemicals can cause serious harm to the people and the environment. To deal with the situation, a pilot project in Pakistan has come up with an innovative solution in which the farmers can earn some good money by trapping the locusts which will then be turned into high-protein chicken feed by animal feed mills.
Locust swarms have been threatening India and Pakistan for more than 25 years but recently they have doubled in amount. They come in large quantities and destroy the crops, huge swarms darkened the sky in Jaipur in recent days; one resident of Rajasthan’s biggest city said it was like being “overtaken by aliens,” the New York Times reported.
Eastern provinces of Pakistan first faced this in winter, now recently fresh swarms in large quantity again attacked the breadbasket regions. The worst part is that they are expected to grow until mid-summer. The government has approved a National Action Plan for locust control in February and airborne spraying of some 300,000 liters of insecticide is taking place. But since spaying can be very harmful to the people and the environment so a pilot project in Pakistan has come up with a smart way to cull the crop-destroying pests without using insecticides.
“Towards the end of May and in June and July, high level migration is expected,” warns Tariq Khan, director of the Technical Department of Plant Protection in Pakistan’s Sindh province.
Farmer Ghulam Sarwar Panhwar saw millions of the pests devour his cotton and moringa crops in just a few hours. “This was their second attack this month. With locusts attacking our crops during the day, bats attacking our mango orchards at night and coronavirus attacking us in our homes day and night, where do we go?” asks Panhwar, who owns two farms totalling 300 acres in the Hyderabad district of Sindh.
Chemicals that are being spayed by the government are not safe and cannot be used continuously. Sohail Ahmed, an animal biologist at the University of Agriculture in Peshawarsays; “No bio-safe pesticide is being used at the moment. These chemical sprays are toxic to the environment and will affect humans, wildlife, and livestock.”
To fight these millions of locusts, an innovative pilot project in Pakistan’s Okara district offers a sustainable solution in which farmers earn money by trapping locusts. The locusts will then be turned into high-protein chicken feed by animal feed mills.
This brilliant idea is suggested by Muhammad Khurshid, a civil servant in the Ministry of National Food Security and Research, and Johar Ali, a biotechnologist from the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council.
“We were mocked for doing this – no one thought that people could actually catch locusts and sell them,” says Ali.
They got inspired by Yemen where the motto was “Eat the locusts before they eat the crop.”
The slogan of this project is “Catch locusts. Earn money. Save crops”, which offers to pay 20 Pakistani rupees per kilogram of locusts to the farmers who catch them.
It's easy to capture the insects during the night when they cluster on trees and open ground.
“On the first day in the field we had to send word out and around 10-15 people showed up,” says Ali. But word of the money to be made spread quickly, and hundreds of people showed up by the third day. “We did not even have to provide them with bags, they brought their own on their motorbikes. All we did was to weigh the bags and check that they were indeed full of locusts, and then pay them for their efforts.”
Farmers have earned up to 20,000 Pakistani rupees (USD 125) per person for one night’s work, it's a win-win situation for everyone.
The five-week study was done by one of Pakistan's biggest poultry breeders and animal feed makers. The result was positive, the bug-based feed turned out to be nutritious with high protein.
Muhammad Athar, the general manager Hi-Tech Feeds (within the Hi-Tech Group, one of Pakistan’s biggest poultry breeders and animal feed makers), says his firm fed the bug-based feed to its broiler chickens in a five-week study. “All nutritional aspects came out positive – there was no issue with the feed made from these locusts. If we can capture the locusts without spraying on them, their biological value is high and they have good potential for use in fish, poultry and even dairy feed,” he says.
“We currently import 300,000 tonnes of soya bean and after extracting the oil for sale, we use the soya bean crush to use in animal feed. Soya bean has 45% protein whereas locusts have 70% protein. Soya bean meal is 90 Pakistani rupees per kilogram (USD 0.5), whereas locusts are free – the only cost is capturing them and drying them so they can be sold as useable product,” says Athar.