China could deploy 100,000 ducks to neighbouring Pakistan to help tackle swarms of crop-eating locusts, according to reports.
Pakistan declared an emergency earlier this month saying locust numbers were the worst in more than two decades.
An agricultural expert behind the scheme says a single duck can eat more than 200 locusts a day and can be more effective than pesticides.
However, another researcher questioned whether the ducks would be effective.
Millions of the insects have also been devastating crops in parts of East Africa.
The Chinese government announced this week it was sending a team of experts to Pakistan to develop “targeted programmes” against the locusts.
Lu Lizhi, a senior researcher with the Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences, told Bloomberg that the ducks are “biological weapons”. He said that while chickens could eat about 70 locusts in one day a duck could devour more than three times that number.
“Ducks like to stay in a group so they are easier to manage than chickens,” he told Chinese media.
A trial involving the ducks will take place in China’s western Xinjiang province in the coming months, Mr Lu said.
After that they will be sent to Pakistan’s worst-affected areas of Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab provinces.
The scheme quickly took hold on Chinese social media.
“Go, ducks! I hope you come back alive,” wrote one user of China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform.
“Heroic ducks in harm’s way!” said another, in a parody of the description commonly used for medical staff tackling the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.
However, a professor from the China Agriculture University, who is part of the delegation to Pakistan, questioned whether the ducks would be suited to the mainly arid conditions where the locusts are a problem.
“Ducks rely on water, but in Pakistan’s desert areas, the temperature is very high,” Zhang Long told reporters in Pakistan.
He said that although ducks have been used against locusts since ancient times, their deployment “hasn’t yet entered the government assistance programme” and was an “exploratory” method.
In 2000, China shipped 30,000 ducks from Zhejiang province to Xinjiang to tackle an infestation of locusts.
According to the UN, the current heavy infestations can be traced back to the cyclone season of 2018-19 that brought heavy rains to the Arabian Peninsula and allowed at least three generations of “unprecedented breeding” that went undetected. Swarms have since spread out into South Asia and East Africa.
In January, the UN called for international help to fight swarms of desert locusts sweeping through East Africa.
Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are all struggling with “unprecedented” and “devastating” swarms of the food-devouring insects, the UN said.