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(B)eat the Locust: a sustainable solution to a gluttonous problem

Story Food systems
Kenya -

Plagues of voracious desert locusts threaten the livelihoods and food security of millions of people. Catching the locusts and breeding insects are an ideal solution for many entrepreneurs in the arid north of Kenya.

There are few natural food sources in this area, predominantly inhabited by pastoralists, for whom it is becoming increasingly difficult to survive.

In recent years, desert locusts in the Horn of Africa have devoured thousands of square kilometres of agricultural fields and nature. Climate change is creating favourable conditions for the locusts’ procreation and the frequency of plagues is expected to increase.

Large distances

Desert locusts differ from other insects because they can travel large distances. They often form swarms of up to forty to eighty million locusts per square kilometre. A swarm of that size can rob 35,000 people of their daily meals.

Chemical pesticides can control the swarms quickly and effectively, but little research has been done on the harmful effects. This method will likely have long-term, negative consequences for the health of people, animals and the natural environment. Moreover, there is a chance that the locusts will become resistant to the pesticides.

Watch this video in which the partners of the Dutch Relief Alliance, including Cordaid, provide humanitarian assistance in the regions affected by desert locusts:

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A sustainable and edible solution

As is often the case in crisis areas, people prove to be resilient, with several initiatives to generate income from the invasive insects by collecting, breeding and selling them.

Cordaid is committed to a sustainable solution by turning this disaster into an opportunity. Thanks to the (B)eat the Locust project, the insects no longer threaten the food supply, but actually contribute to it as part of the food chain.

During a desert locust plague, the insects are collected and processed. During periods without a plague, cricket farmers supplement the supply to meet market demand. This way, the community can generate a sustainable income from the value chain.

High nutritional value

According to various analyses by project partner and insect research institute ICIPE, desert locusts have a high protein content and are rich in fat (17%), minerals, vitamins D and E, and omega-3 fatty acids, which gives them a high nutritional value.

The Kenyan livestock sector struggles with a lack of protein-rich feed and fluctuating prices. That is why the government, with the help of donors, is launching emergency aid programmes to distribute livestock feed in the area. This offers an opportunity for local farmers to develop protein-rich products for the market.

Food for animals and humans

Research by the project team showed that locusts can substitute soybeans in broiler feed. This enables farmers to produce feed for a lower price. The insects also offer interesting opportunities to feed people. Kenya has a growing market for foods with insects as a main ingredient.

After three years, the new value chain will be fully functional and ready to be scaled up to the rest of Kenya and other countries vulnerable to locust plagues, such as Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda and South Sudan.