Pakistan battles locusts by turning them into chicken feed
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By Kaneez Fatima, with Ashraf Khan in Karachi
Chickens in Pakistan have been feasting on captured locusts under an initiative to combat swarms of the insects that are threatening food supplies in the impoverished country.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has endorsed plans to expand a pilot project in the bread-basket province of Punjab, where villagers earned cash to gather locusts that were then dried out, shredded and added into poultry feed.
Farmers are struggling as the worst locust plague in 25 years wipes out entire harvests in Pakistan’s agricultural heartlands, leaving people scrambling for income.
Muhammad Khurshid from Pakistan’s food ministry and biotechnologist Johar Ali set up the program, drawing on efforts in war-ravaged Yemen, where authorities have encouraged people to eat the protein-rich locusts amid famine.
The pair chose Punjab’s Okara district, where farmers had not used any pesticides that would make locusts unsuitable for consumption.
“We first had to learn, and then teach the locals how to catch the locusts. Nets are useless against them,” Khurshid told AFP.
At night the creatures cluster on trees and plants, making them easy to scoop up as they lie motionless in the cooler temperatures until the sun begins to rise.
For a reward of 20 rupees (12 cents) per kilogram of locusts, locals worked all night to collect them.
One farmer who lost all her crops to the insects said she and her son earned 1,600 rupees ($10) during a single locust-gathering outing, helping to offset the financial damage.
Organizers struggled at first to convince farmers to join the hunt, but by the third night word had spread and hundreds joined in — turning up with their bags to stuff full.
With 20 tonnes of captured locusts, authorities ran out of money to pay the collectors and the program was paused.
The ministry, which recently announced the results of February’s pilot, is now preparing to expand the project to other locations. (AFP)