The Head of Insect Science at the University of Nairobi Dr. George Ong’amo Otieno says, the desert locusts, usually occur after a drought that is followed by rapid vegetation growth.
The favorable conditions brought about by the heavy rains experienced during the short rains season last year which brought forth lush vegetation has made it possible for the insects to thrive.
Dr. Ong’amo traces the current invasion in Kenya to Yemen.
“If you recall Yemen had heavy rainfall in February last year, following the rainfall, the desert locusts was able to develop and multiply into swarms,” he said before adding “The swarms then moved to Ethiopia and down to Kenya.”
Even as farmers cry foul of their farms left bare by the ravenous insects, all is not lost and they can actually tremendously boost their health by turning the locusts into delicious highly nutritious meals.
A meal composed of the locusts can prevent killer diseases such as cancer among a host of other deadly diseases.
Non-communicable diseases such as heart attacks, stroke, cancers, diabetes and asthma kill about 28 million people a year in low- and middle-income countries, including those in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to World Health Organisation (WHO).
A study conducted jointly by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and United States Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service (USDA/ARS) found that eating the meat of the desert locust could be good for your heart.
“They are also rich in proteins, fatty acids and minerals that boost immunity, fight cancer and prevent inflammation of body organs.” Baldwyn Torto, a scientist with icipe in Kenya who led the study said.
The study titled “the potential of the desert locust Schistocerca gregaria (Orthoptera: Acrididae) as an unconventional source of dietary and therapeutic sterols” found that desert locusts contains a rich composition of compounds known as sterols, which in turn have cholesterol-lowering properties, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.
Kate Kibarah, a clinical nutrionist based in Kenya, says that food sources which contribute to the fight against non-communicable diseases should be promoted, adding that based on the findings of the study, desert locusts as a food source should be promoted.
Millions of Kenyan jobless youths can also seize the opportunity and harvest the locusts and sell them to animal feeds manufacturers.
The Chairman of the Entomologists Association Dr. Muo Kasina has urged animal food manufacturers to harvest the desert locusts and use them in the production of animal feeds.
“The government should start sending teams to areas where the locusts have arrived and using the aircrafts tied with nets, they can collect the swarms, and give them to animal feed manufacturers to produce animal feed,” he said and added, “the locusts are very nutritious.”
Professor John Nderitu of the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Nairobi has advised the government to deploy an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach that includes biological, mechanical and chemical control to bring under control the desert locust invasion quickly getting out of hand.