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Startup Turns Destructive Locust Plagues Into Animal Feed and Fertilizer

The firm pays Kenyan communities to harvest the insects, creating job opportunities.

Startup Turns Destructive Locust Plagues Into Animal Feed and Fertilizer
Swarm of locusts in Kenya SeppFriedhuber/iStock

Kenyan communities are suffering from some of the worst locust plagues in decades, a problem that has been attributed to unusual weather patterns exacerbated by climate change.

In a bid to help locals get rid of the crop and livelihood-destroying infestations, a startup called 'The Bug Picture' is providing an extra incentive to harvest the insects at nighttime, a World Economic Forum report explains.

The firm pays local communities to harvest the insects and mill them, turning them into protein-rich animal feed and organic fertilizer that can then be sold. 

Researchers say climate change is having a knock-on effect leading to unprecedented locust swarms. Warmer seas are creating more rain which wakes dormant eggs. Cyclones that disperse the swarms are also getting stronger and more frequency.

The Bug Picture strives to 'create hope in a hopeless situation'

The Bug Picture currently works with communities in central Kenya — around the regions of Laikipia, Isiolo and Samburu — an area that is particularly affected by the plagues.

"We are trying to create hope in a hopeless situation, and help these communities alter their perspective to see these insects as a seasonal crop that can be harvested and sold for money," said Laura Stanford, founder of The Bug Picture.

The Bug Picture is specifically targeting swarms of 5 hectares or less in areas that are not suitable for spraying.

Swarms can contain up to 80 million locusts per square kilometer and are capable of traveling up to 93 miles (150 km) per day.

The Bug Picture is paying one farmer, Joseph Mejia, and his neighbors 50 Kenyan shillings ($0.4566) for a kilogram of insects. Between Feb 1-18, the project harvested 1.3 tons of locusts.

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"They destroy all the crops when they get into the farms. Sometimes they are so many, you cannot tell them apart, which are crops and which are locusts," said Mejia.

The locusts are collected at night by torchlight when they are typically found resting on shrubs and trees.

Once collected, the locusts are weighed before being crushed and dried. They are then milled and processed into powder, which is used in animal feed and organic fertilizers.

Stanford says she was inspired by a project in Pakistan, overseen by the state-run Pakistan Agricultural Research Council. The Bug Picture is helping local communities to make the best of a trying situation as the knock-on effects of climate change wreak havoc on crops worldwide.

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