By Tabitha Oeri

Kenyan tea farmers and locals of Turkana County are resorting to harvesting swarms of desert locusts by torch-light and turning them to animal feeds.  Bug-Picture Company has proved this to be both viable and profitable to residents in the County in controlling the menace.

Laura Stamford, the Founder of Bug-Picture Company, said turning the desert locusts into animal feed is just one solution to the surging swarms that have been recently plaguing the Horn of Africa. The booming numbers of said gluttonous pests is a result of favorable weather conditions.

“During the course of February, we harvested 2.5 tons of locusts and one of our biggest harvests was 400kg and that was harvested by about 25 to 30 people,” Stamford said.

According to reports by Africa News, some of the farmers have been turned to harvesters, a job they claim to be a form of revenge. The farmers also acknowledge that this nightly work has enabled them feed their families after having to sit back helplessly and watch as the insects devour their crops.

Pharis Githinji, a farmer-turned-harvester says, “We saw that they are terrorizing us by eating the food that we have planted, destroying everything. So I thought let me terrorize them by looking for them and here they are.”

Sapped of energy after a long day of eating crops and traveling up to about 150 kilometers, the locusts settle down for the night. The locals then start to harvest them, picking them from the trees without the insects flying away. Key to this night-time harvest is keeping track of their movements until the sunsets.

Natalina Lopeyok, livelihood officer in Turkana County Kenya, explains that, “We get information from the local scouts in various locations. So once we get information that the locusts have been located in an area, we start pursuing them and normally they set off at around 10 am. So we start following them as they move on. By around 5 pm. to 7 pm. is the time they want to roost.”

“So once they roost we mobilize communities around those areas to harvest them overnight because that is when it’s most appropriate to harvest locusts, it’s at night when they actually are sleepy, they have little energy to move and they are also very lazy. So we harvest them overnight until 6 am,” Lopeyok affirms.

At dawn the harvesters then weigh their haul and are paid for what they have caught. Paying for the harvested locusts is not an act of charity – the insects have real monetary value as Bug-Picture turns them into animal feed and fertilizer.

“There is someone who is paying us and per kilo they are giving us 50 shillings ($0.50) and you see if I get 10 kilos I will get 500 shillings ($5) and with that I can get flour (a meal), which isn’t easy,” adds Githinji.

According to Githinji, the ground locusts are taken to Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) where they are milled and mixed with other experimental diets. The mixture is fed to chicks under scientific conditions to monitor how the birds respond to the food source.

Dr Mathew Gicheha, who works in the department of animal science at JKUAT, says that experiments are still being done on the effects of the locust meals. But they already know a locust-based feed is higher in protein than soy and fish used in some animal feeds.

“The insects’ sources of protein are more advanced or are more, in terms of growth performance, are better than our traditional sources,” Dr Gicheha says. We expect that the locust’s meal, which in terms of laboratory analysis is superior to other protein sources, will give us good performances.”

“So if you look at what this means, if you scale it, it isn’t that this is a really insignificant project. It has the ability to be something quite big if we were able to look at larger mobilization and take advantage of this because these swarms are not disappearing,” Stamford asserts.

“They are incredibly effective at breeding where every generation is about 10 times bigger than the one before. So it is something that we all need to contribute to as a solution in order to overcome this menace as a region,” she encourages.