Faced with the worst invasion of locusts in 25 years, which has ravaged crops and threatened food security, Pakistan has developed a pilot project to transform these protein-rich insects into chicken food.
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A first test was held in February, when villagers were paid to collect locusts in the Okara district (center), where crops are grown without pesticides, which would have made the insects unfit for consumption.
“We first had to (…) teach the locals how to catch them. Nets are useless against them, “said Muhammad Khurshid, a Food Ministry official who initiated the initiative.
The harvest was done at night, while the swarms, taking advantage of the cooler temperatures, gathered, motionless, on the trees and plants, he explains. One by one, the insects were picked, then thrown into bags, before the first rays of the sun woke them up.
Each kilo was paid for 20 Pakistan rupees (11 euro cents). A fair revenge for the farmers, whose entire fields they have destroyed in recent months.
“The locusts have devoured all my cereals,” laments a peasant woman interviewed by the authorities, who is also pleased to have earned 1,600 rupees (about $ 14) by picking up insects for a day.
A total of 20 tonnes of these harmful insects were thus collected, exhausting the authorities’ budget. The program was then paused.
The locusts, dried and shredded, were then added to poultry feed by Hi-tech feeds, Pakistan’s largest animal feed producer. The new mixture has been tested on 500 breeding chickens.
– Shortages –
“There were no problems,” said Muhammad Athar, the company’s general manager. The protein-rich Desert Locusts “have good potential for use in poultry feed,” he added.
Although the pilot project is not a solution to the devastation of crops, it can provide farmers with an alternative source of income and relieve authorities struggling to distribute locust pesticides.
Prime Minister Imran Khan approved a plan to expand the project in June after Pakistan experienced its worst locust attack in 25 years. Heavy rain and cyclones have triggered an “unprecedented” multiplication of swarms last year in the Arabian Peninsula, according to the UN.
The crisis is so severe that the government has declared the phenomenon a national emergency and has appealed for help to the international community.
Bananas, mangoes and other vegetable crops are all vulnerable, raising fears of food shortages, while exports of wheat and cotton provide vital income to Pakistan, the economy already weighed down by the new coronavirus.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Pakistan could suffer losses of around $ 5 billion if 25% of its crops are damaged.
Reduced crops could also drive up prices and exacerbate food insecurity, in a country where around 20% of the population is already undernourished, and almost half of children under the age of five are delayed. growth, according to figures from the World Food Program.
The locusts also caused heavy damage in north-west India, neighboring Pakistan. A year of extreme weather conditions also saw them devastate a dozen countries in East Africa this year.