CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia — Locust swarms have been devastating crops and displacing communities across the Horn of Africa in what is being called the worst locust outbreak in 70 years. Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Uganda, Sudan and several others are the most vulnerable to the effects of the swarms. Recent levels of rainfall have contributed to an increase of upwards of 20 times the number of locusts, creating an unprecedented threat to food security for millions of people. A swarm of locusts can eat as much food as 35,000 people in a single day. With locusts presenting a great threat to agricultural development, a company is helping Kenya by turning the locust problem into an opportunity to create beneficial products. The Bug Picture is a unique agriculture company with a creative solution to the locust plague problem in Africa.
The Current Situation in Kenya
More than 70% of Kenya’s rural population relies on agriculture to varying extents in order to make a living. The agriculture sector in Kenya employs more than 40% of the country’s total population. It also accounts for up to 33% of the country’s GDP. On the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification scale (IPC) ranging from (IPC 1) minimal to (IPC 5) famine, around 1.3 million people are suffering from (IPC 3) crisis levels of acute food insecurity in Kenya. Locusts present a significant threat to efforts combating food insecurity. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic made it even more difficult to get pesticides to the areas that need them. The central, northern and coastal regions of Kenya have been experiencing mature locust swarms as of January 2021. The rainy season from March to May will see an increased number of locust swarms further impacting crop and foraging yields.
The Bug Picture
With the locust issue only increasing in severity as the rainy season begins, a company called the Bug Picture had the idea of turning the insects into animal feed and organic fertilizer. The company has been turning locusts into fertilizer, providing a creative solution to the problem. The Bug Picture sees the locusts as a crop that can be harvested. The organization uses locusts to benefit the farmers whom they have plagued. It is working in central Kenya, specifically Laikipia, Isiolo and Samburu. Locusts are harvested and milled to create an organic fertilizer that has a high amount of protein.
The Bug Picture pays farmers to collect the insects in order to turn them into fertilizer. A recent project in February 2021 saw the Bug Picture paying Kenyan farmers 50 Kenyan shillings or $0.456 per kilogram of locusts. Within an 18-day period, the organization harvested more than 1.3 tons of locusts.
The World Food Programme’s action plan for 2018-2023 requires $249 million to combat food insecurity and malnutrition in Kenya. Locust swarms will prove to be a significant challenge in combating food insecurity and strengthening the agricultural sector in Kenya as the rainy season begins. The Bug Picture is working to turn the locusts into a nutrient fertilizer to improve crop resilience and lessen the damage the locust swarms will do to crops. The company is providing a creative solution to address the locust plague in Africa.
– Gerardo Valladares