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Pilot programme transforms locusts into poultry feed

A pilot project in Pakistan is collecting dry locusts, shredding them and incorporating them into chicken feed after swarms of the insects descended on the impoverished country.

10 June 2020, at 2:59pm

According to Aljazeera, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has endorsed plans to expand a locust-based development project in the agricultural province of Punjab. The pilot project encourages villagers to gather dried out locusts and incorporate them into poultry feed for cash.

2020 has seen the worst locust invasion in 25 years hit the country. Entire harvests have been wiped out and many farmers and villagers are scrambling for income.

Muhammad Khurshid from Pakistan's food ministry and biotechnologist Johar Ali initiated the project, 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 the AFP news agency.

Villagers must wait to collect the locusts until nightfall, when they cluster on trees and plants. This makes them easier to scoop up as they lie motionless in the cooler temperatures.

For a reward of 20 rupees (12 cents) per kg 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.

Organisers 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 own bags to stuff full.

With 20 tonnes of captured locusts, authorities ran out of money to pay the collectors and the programme was paused.

The ministry, which recently announced the results of February's pilot, is now preparing to expand the project to other locations.

The harvested locusts went to Hi-Tech Feeds - Pakistan's largest animal-feed producer - which substituted 10 percent of the soybean in its chicken food with the insects.

"There was no issue with the feed, the locusts have a good potential for use in poultry feed," general manager Muhammad Athar said, after trying the modified product on 500 broiler hens.

Read more about this story on Aljazeera.