As East Africa has endured one of the worst locust invasions in 70 years, a Kenyan company is fighting back — by treating the voracious insects as a cash crop.
The infestation began in Kenya in late 2019 after a series of unusual weather patterns. The swarm soon began spreading east, into Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen. A single swarm can contain up to 80 million locusts and can travel up to 150 kilometers in one day, depending on the wind.
As of early 2021, exterminators were getting the locusts under control. But a startup company called The Bug Picture also was contributing by paying people to harvest the invaders to be ground up and used as animal feed and organic fertilizer.
The locusts are typically gathered at night, after they have eaten. They have little energy to resist and are resting on shrubs and trees.
“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,” Laura Stanford, founder of The Bug Picture, told Reuters.
The Bug Picture pays harvesters 50 Kenyan shillings, or about 46 cents, per kilogram of the insects. The gathering has to be done by hand because there are no machines adapted for such work.
The insects are crushed and dried, then milled and processed into powder. Harvesters are paid immediately, using a mobile platform, according to Euronews.