Every one of us might have heard about the devastating desert locust attack that occurred last year in 2020 in India and has repeatedly come since many years in various countries. East Africa has been under the worst locust swarm attacks for many decades now. These locusts have generally been seen arising from Africa, destroying the crops of the Middle East, coming forward to storm Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and others, and then moving forward to East Asia.
Now, first let us understand what is a locust? In simple terms, a locust is a grasshopper that grows and lives in a cluster called swarm. It feeds on the vegetative crops, like cabbage and spinach which have leaves on them. Locusts are almost impossible to control as they move in a swarm of 80 million locusts per square km and can travel over 140 Km in a day. Hence, the damage caused by them is very rapid and highly detrimental. The vegetative green land could look completely barren if a swarm of locust stayed there for just more than ten minutes.
Many strong measures have been taken in the past for controlling these desert locusts, yet they all remained inefficient in stopping them to reoccur. In 2008, China deployed 200 tons of fertilizers in the infected 2000 square miles of its area. In 2004, Africa suffered a huge loss of $2.5 billion, for which it had to spend $122 million to control the attack.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) along with the government of Africa has started many campaigns alarming the farmers and helping them to combat this attack. Locust Watch, a recent campaign held on 24th February 2020 proved to be very fruitful in this regard. The organisation talked about controlling locusts via fertilizers, particularly bio-pesticides. But there are three main issues in fertilizers. First, they are not eco-friendly; hence cause severe environmental pollution by mixing into the air, water, and soil. Secondly, they are not specific to pests, and hence can kill other useful pests and living forms of nature. And third, they are very costly. Bio pesticides, though not being too costly has low reaction time, hence could not be the exact solution at the time of severe locust attack.
But as wise men say, “All things are difficult, until we strive for them.” It is not always about how difficult the problem is, it’s equally about how innovative the solution could be.
This has successfully been proven by Kenya which has started a wonderful innovation of turning this obstacle into opportunity. They seem to support the theme, “They ate your crop? You eat them.” Interesting, right! This means that before a locust swarm can attack the plant, humans themselves attack these locusts and use them for their own benefits. Own use refers to the start-up of turning locust swarms into animal feed, thus transforming the pests into a valuable resource. It would help bring a huge return to those farmers whose crops would have been otherwise destroyed. This pest picture is working with communities in rural Kenya, which would benefit in generating an economy in underdeveloped areas. It pays them $0.45 per kilo of locusts. Workers shake the insects from trees during the night. Later, they are dried and milled before being processed into feed and fertilizer. These transformed locusts are used to plan animal feed for fish, poultry, dairy and pigs as locusts have 70% protein. Locusts have very high conversion efficiencies and carry very low carbohydrates. So, the primary aim is to substitute the biggest and most expensive part of animal feed, protein.
Insects are forecasted to become an important food for humans, too. 2 billion people across the world already eat them regularly, from Africa to Asia. The European Union (EU) has recently declared mealworms safe to consume and include in regular diet. Insects are more sustainable and easier to produce than other animal protein sources and can help feed the world’s growing population. It could be proved as an excellent source in the world’s food security soon. Hence, there lies even a greater opportunity and an extensive business in a swarm of locust.
It won’t be completely wrong if we forecast the days when our father would force us to eat insects and not vegetables, again interesting, isn’t it!