The 2019–20 locust infestation is a pest outbreak which is threatening food
supply across East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian subcontinent.
Let me begin with an extract from the Bible: ‘Out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth...All that was ordered, and the stable is but shaken.’
Gods must have had their reasons when they unleashed locusts on this earth; locusts, that in their happy numbers, infest a place and leave behind a trail of death and misery.
Initially, a bright idea had occurred in Islamabad, to feed these to chickens. The plan has been to grind these pests into fertilizer — as more locust swarms threaten Pakistan’s crops. The project has aimed to test ways of killing and using the voracious pests for the benefit of local communities.
Pakistan’s worst locust infestation in about three decades started in June 2019, when the insects came over from Iran in a surge that climate experts link to changing conditions conducive to the spread of the insects.
This summer, the locusts are breeding locally, says the Pakistani government, which is desperately trying to head off another attack by spraying pesticides on newborn locusts — called hoppers because they cannot fly — in desert areas, on the Indian border.
But worries that the pesticides could be harmful to plants, animals and people have motivated researchers to seek chemical-free methods of cutting the locust population.
“We wanted to come up with a locust control project that would be environment-friendly and sustainable,” said biotechnologist Johar Ali.
For Ali and his colleague Muhammad Khurshid, who was working for the food ministry at the time, the answer was chicken feed.
In February, the state-run Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) sent Ali and Khurshid, now with the privatization ministry, to implement a three-day trial in Punjab in eastern Pakistan.