Starving Yemenis find food source in massive locust outbreak

"Instead of them eating our vegetables, now we eat locusts with rice and our vegetables are fine," said one Yemeni farmer.

June 3, 2019 10:43
3 minute read.
A boy holds a bag filled with locusts he caught near Radaa, Yemen Sept. 2007

A boy holds a bag filled with locusts he caught near Radaa, Yemen Sept. 2007. (photo credit: REUTERS/KHALED ABDULLAH ALI AL MAHDI)


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A massive outbreak of desert locusts has been reported in Yemen, where desert locusts were seen for the first time in three years, according to the Middle East Eye. Yemeni villagers took advantage of the swarms of locusts by using them as an alternative food source.

Yemeni villagers attempted to catch the insects to save their crops, as Yemen is in the midst of a food crisis.

"One swarm covering one square kilometers contains 50 million locusts, and this swarm can eat the equivalent of 100 tons per day," said Wajeeh Mutawakel, the director general of the Plant Protection Office in the Houthi rebel-controlled Yemeni capital Sanaa, the Middle East Eye reported. "This may cause disaster not only in Yemen but also in other countries, such as in Saudi Arabia."

Mutawakel did point out though that Yeminis have found a unique way to deal with the plague of locust as "Yemenis are fond of eating locusts."

Villagers catch the locusts at night when they're not flying, by throwing scarves or other large pieces of cloth over the insects to trap them and then sweeping them into bags using shovels or their hands, according to the Middle East Eye.

"If locusts had remained for five minutes, they would have wiped out the entire crops," Yemeni farmer Ameen al-Haqash told the Middle East Eye. "But we wiped them out before they wiped out crops. In a matter of five hours, the village was free from any danger of the locusts."

"Instead of them eating our vegetables, now we eat locusts with rice and our vegetables are fine," al-Haqash added. "Locusts swept the entire Arab region, but when they arrived in Yemen, Yemenis eliminated them."

Local farmers even claimed that in the 1960's, a villager gave his in-laws a sack of locusts as a marriage payment ahead of his wedding. Some farmers bring the locusts to Sanaa to sell them fresh or grilled near Sanaa's Great Mosque.

Farooq al-Jaradi told the Middle East Eye as he was purchasing cooked locusts that he only eats the insects because they are considered by Yemenis as a remedy for multiple illnesses, including diabetes and hypertension.

"Locusts don't threaten food security, especially in Yemen," Jaradi said. "Yemenis eat them before they eat their crops."

"Its taste is delicious. If you eat one locust, you will end up wanting to eat five," said Sanaa resident Wadai al-Nawdah. "I walk every day after breakfast to find locusts for dinner. I have become addicted."

Iran is also being struck with a plague of desert locusts, the Tehran Times reported.

The locusts have spread throughout southern Iran, resulting in major losses in farms and gardens.

The head of the Iran Plant Protection Organization Mohammad Reza Dargahi stated that the locusts traveled to Iran from Oman, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, Mehr news reported in May. Dargahi stated at the time that it was too early to say if the outbreak was intentionally caused.

Dargahi added that about 300,000 hectares of farmlands have been affected by the outbreak.

Large aerial and ground pest control operations have been carried out in the past 4 months to combat the wave of locusts. Nearly $6.9 million have been set aside to deal with the massive outbreak.

The Tehran Times explained that desert locusts can form large swarms and pose a "major threat" to agriculture, food security, the environment and economic development.

Another outbreak of the pests is expected within the next 12 days, said Esmaeel Najjar, head of Iran's Crisis Management Organization.

Iran's Food and Agriculture Organization explained that adult locust swarms can fly up to 93 miles a day and female locusts can lay 300 eggs within their lifetime. A small swarm eats the same amount of food in a day as about 35,000 people.

In a May 3 report, the FAO stated that the desert locust issue had become more severe in the past few weeks in the spring breeding areas of Iran and Saudia Arabia, according to the Tehran Times.

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