Livin’ La Vida Locust

Agriculture is a major source of livelihood for many Africans and Marc Mcilhone takes us into the creepy crawly side of the business.

“One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in his bed he had been changed into a monstrous bug…” – Frank Kafka (The Metamorphosis)

Some people have an irrational fear of insects and this tends to be dictated by cultural backgrounds. Very few insects are actually dangerous but I must admit that most can look particularly frightening under a magnifying glass. But we are, of course, judging a book by its cover.

Agriculture in Africa is a critical aspect in everyone’s lives, be it as farmers, consumers or businesses, and the sector is evolving rapidly due to climate change. Shall we take a look at some of what negatives and positives our smallest neighbours can bring? Lean forward and bring your magnifying glass to your eye.

Egypt – Desert Locusts

In February, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released a statement warning Central Africa, which includes Egypt, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Oman and Yemen, about the imminent invasion of swarms of desert locusts on their agricultural lands.

The desert locust is potentially the most dangerous of the locust pests as their swarms are always on the move, which makes it difficult for farmers to treat them all in one go. This is also exacerbated by the fact that swarms can change location rapidly by riding winds.

Egyptian businesses, in particular, have a lot to lose as Africa’s largest wheat grower, with an expected output of 8.5 million tons in 2012-2013, according to the International Grains Council. With around 3.6 million hectares (Ha) of agricultural land in Egypt, there is a lot at stake in the case of a major locust invasion.

Back in November 2004, the Land Centre for Human Rights reported that 38 per cent of Egypt’s crops had been damaged or destroyed as a result of an invasion of desert locusts.

Tanzania – Amani Butterfly Project

When one thinks of farming, butterflies are not the first thing that comes to mind, but in Tanzania, this unlikely crop is cultivated to help conserve threatened forests and provide an alternative income to more than 250 farmers.

The Tanzania Forest Conservation Group has started initiatives, which includes the Amani Butterfly Project, to incentivise locals to conserve forests, while also earning an alternative income.

The project manager, Amiri Saidi, said that studies conducted by the project showed that butterfly farmers were taking ownership of forest conservation.

“Because butterfly farmers rely on forests near their communities to provide host plants for their butterfly farms, many farmers now support forest conservation,” he told CNN in an interview.

Butterfly farming is supplementing the income of many needy households. Some families earn less than US$400 (Sh600,000) a year, but with the new venture the average household has seen a 25 per cent increase in income.

Depending on species, each pupae is worth between $1 (Sh1500) and $2.50 (Sh3800).

At the end of 2010, the Amani project was selling a 50 000 pupae a year to 13 buyers.

Ethiopia – Bee Keeping

For Haleka Shishay, being unemployed left him feeling desperate. A resident of the Tahtai Maichew district in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, Shishay used to travel during the rainy season to find seasonal work. That was before bees came into his life. Today, Shishay, 25, is the proud owner of bee hives that now give him a regular income.

“I used to migrate during the rainy season to western Tigray to look for seasonal work, or I would cut trees from the forests to sell in the nearby town for firewood or construction material. Now I have gained new skills and tools for making bee hives and splitting bee colonies thanks to the Climate Change Adaptation and Development Initiative (CC DARE),” he said proudly in an interview with the United Nations Environment Programme.

The CC DARE project is funded by the UN and creates opportunities and sustainable solutions for alternative incomes for local communities.

Bee farming is not only a source of employment but has become a viable long-term solution for addressing food security (bees cross-pollinate 90 per cent of crops) in Ethiopia. The drought that has ravaged the Horn of Africa has not spared Ethiopia, a country where over 85 per cent of people depend on agriculture.

While beekeeping has historically been one of the most important income-generating activities in the region, land degradation and climate change has threatened the business as never before.

Agricultural history spans back thousands of years and there are many skills that have been passed down from generation to generation, but as climate change appears to be accelerating, affecting not just Africa but the whole World we need to look at how we may adapt to the new conditions.

Even the locust can be used positively…anyone fancy one deep fried?

BY MARC MCILHONE

Marc Mcilhone joined the AfricanBrains team as an editor in November 2011. Marc’s work is informed by his technical background in architecture, having worked for some of the UK’s leading practices on projects within the healthcare, education and housing sectors. Marc is particularly interested in how African innovators are creating sustainable solutions that positively impact people’s everyday lives. You can contact him directly at editor@africanbrains.org or via Twitter at @AfricanBrains.

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