China Sets Ducks on Locusts

The locusts are coming — in biblical proportions.

In a pernicious mass, swarms of locusta migratoria are chomping their way through the Central Asian plains, devouring vegetation and crops through swathes of Russia, China and the former Soviet republics.

A combination of drought, poverty, war and sheer neglect has seen locusts breeding unchecked on abandoned farmlands in the region resulting in the worst plague of locusts to hit the fertile Central Asian plains in 40 years.

In a desperate struggle to combat the unwelcome clouds of insects, local authorities have been using both orthodox and unorthodox means to beat the ravaging hordes.

And that includes a million-strong army of ducks.

A Quack Force

Call them quacks if you must, but authorities in the worst-affected Xinjiang province in China have recruited locust-eating ducks to combat the menace, the official Xinhua news agency has reported.

The "duck soldiers," specially trained by farmer Yang Dayuan, are capable of eating more than a pound of locusts every day. What's more, they even eat locust eggs that are laid in the marshy alkaline wastelands.

An environmentally friendly locust-crunching method, the duck soldiers add a boost to the circle of life, Yang told the British daily The Times. "The ducks will grow healthy and fat and will get a higher price on the market after they retire from pest-control duty."

Pesticides to the Rescue

But China has also been forced to employ pesticides to combat the menace. The official China Daily newspaper today reported that 2.5 million acres of land had been sprayed with pesticides.

In the southern Russian republic of Dagestan, the worst hit region in Russia, about 8,900 acres of agricultural land have been treated with chemicals, Russian Agriculture Ministry officials said today.

Petr Fomenko, a spokesman for the Agriculture Ministry, told Interfax news agency authorities estimate they have to treat at least 6 million acres to bring the situation under control.

Russia has assigned approximately $16 million this year to battle the locusts.

Poor Regions, Rich Breeding Grounds

Since most farmers in the former Soviet republics are unable to afford pesticides, they have been forced to rely on local authorities to combat the menace, a response that farmers maintain came a little too late. The slow and often haphazard official response has led to a spread of the migratory insects across national borders.

Last year China blamed lax pest-control measures in neighboring Kazakhstan for an infestation.

In April, the Taliban, the militia that controls most of Afghanistan, appealed for international aid to help combat a potential plague of locusts due to years of severe drought.

More than three years of hostilities in Chechnya has led to the loss of most of the embattled Russia republic's cattle breeders. Cattle can help contain a locust plague by stomping out locust nests.

ABCNEWS' Sergiusz Morenc in Moscow contributed to this report.