Navigating crop success during locust swarms

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How to protect your crops during locust swarms

The devastating effects of locust swarms is well known among agricultural farmers in South Africa. Locust swarms have consumed grazing land in much of Northern Cape, Western Cape and Eastern Cape across the Karoo belt, leaving farmers fighting to save their land and their crops.

This phenomenon occurs during high rainfall seasons, especially in dry and semi-arid areas such as the Karoo. Eggs are laid in the soil and accumulate over dry periods, with the sudden rainfall causing eggs to hatch in plague proportions. Locusts settle on the land for a day or two and then move on, leaving behind a trail of destruction.

Ground crews and air support are fighting an uphill battle, with Agri SA donating more than R500,000 to support aerial spraying across Western Cape and Northern Cape to poison the locusts. With funding and supplies running low, ground crews growing weary, and many detrimental effects on other insect and plant species, it’s surely time to look towards a new solution.

Plant ecologists have been studying exactly this, with research suggesting that insects be used as a valuable resource. Basically this means people should be eating more insects and using the insect waste to enhance plant growth, health, pollination, and resilience.

Many countries around the world already eat insects, an environmentally sustainable source of protein and essential nutrients. Research suggests that farming insects could make use of waste from crop farming to feed insects for food production, and then using the insect waste which is high in nitrogen to boost crop production.

Further to this, the waste from insects could benefit plants to be more resilient to disease and pests. Insect exoskeletons are rich in chitin, which when digested by humans, can have a positive impact on plants if added to soil. Populations of beneficial bacteria that support plants are boosted, perhaps providing enough evidence that insects like locusts, could be part of the solution to sustainable food production.