A pilot project in Pakistan could offer a way to deal with the biggest locust swarms in decades without resorting to harmful insecticides that harm people and the environment. The country was attacked last winter and another wave has hit the region and the threat will continue to rise till mid-summer.
The government approved a National Action Plan in February and currently, airborne spraying of over 300,000 liters of insecticide is underway.
“Towards the end of May and in June and July, high-level migration is expected,” said Tariq Khan, director of the Technical Department of Plant Protection in Pakistan’s Sindh province. Sohail Ahmed, an animal biologist at the University of Agriculture in Peshawar warned that the pesticides used by the government are carcinogenic to humans and poisonous to wildlife.
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.
There might be a solution with an innovative pilot project in Okara which involves farmers earning money by trapping locusts that are transformed into high-protein chicken feed by feed mills. The idea came to 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. Khurshid said the idea came through Yemen where last year when the country faced famine, the motto was “Eat the locusts before they eat the crop.”
In the district, they did a three-day trial, the used the slogan, “Catch locusts. Earn money. Save crops”, while offering to pay farmers 20 Pakistani rupees (USD 0.12) per kilogram of locusts. The community caught seven tonnes a night with the team selling it to nearby plants making chicken feed. Farmers made over 20,000 Pakistani rupees (USD 125) per person for one night’s work.
Muhammad Athar, the general manager Hi-Tech Feeds, says his firm fed the bug-based feed to its broiler chickens in a five-week study. He says:
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. 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 a useable product.
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