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How desert locusts made its early arrival to India| how serious would it be

How desert locusts made its early arrival to India| how serious would it be

An invasion by the desert locusts has hit the large swathes of India and Pakistan in the middle of the corona virus pandemic.

The Desert Locust

Locust is an insect that belongs to species of grasshoppers. The desert locust is one of the species of short-horned grasshoppers in the family that have a swarming phase. These insects are usually solitary, but under certain circumstances they become more abundant and change their behaviour and habits. As their population become dense, they form swarms and start damaging the crops.

Locust Attack In Western India

  • Large swarms of desert locusts have entered areas in India where they had not been seen since 1993 and have already caused damage to crops in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, parts of Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.
  • Normally, with the arrival of the monsoon, locust swarms enter the scheduled desert areas of India via Pakistan for breeding in the summer of June-July, but this year, presence of locust hoppers was reported from April 11, 2020; and pink adult swarms were reported since April 30 in border districts of Rajasthan and Punjab, which have been controlled while control operations against new swarms is going on. One reason for this was the uncontrolled swarms of the previous season in Pakistan that breed continuously. Swarms of pink immature adults fly high and travel long distances with strong winds coming from Pakistan. Most of these pink immature adults settle on trees during the night and mostly fly during the day.
  • Large and aggressive swarms of these crop-devouring short-horned insects have invaded more than two dozen districts covering more than 50,000 hectares of desert areas of western India. The swarms flew across the border around 30 April, and they are still active in districts of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and currently heading towards Maharashtra. 
  • "We are lucky that there is no crop in the fields now. But the locusts eat up all the green vegetation, leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds and plants," deputy director of India's Locusts Warning Organization said. An average small locust swarm can eat as much food in a day as about 35,000 people. If not controlled, they can damage food supplies and cause famine.

How does locust attack affect the Agricultural economy

  • The locusts, which bred and matured in Iran and Pakistan's Balochistan, are one of the oldest migratory pests and can fly up to 150 km in a day and each locust can eat around two grams of crop i.e. equivalent to its own weight. These swarms destroy crops and thereby disrupting the entire agricultural economy is what is commonly referred to as locust plague.
  • The most devastating of all locust species is the Desert Locust. During plagues, it can easily affect 20 per cent of the Earth's land, more than 65 of the world's poorest countries, and potentially damage the livelihood of one tenth of the world's population.
  • If infestations are not detected and controlled, devastating plagues can develop that often take several years and hundreds of millions of dollars to bring under control with severe consequences on food security and livelihoods.

Measure Taken by government to fight Locust Attack
  • India has reached out to Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Africa for a joint effort at the international level to contain the spread of locust which pose a major threat to food security in the region. A high-level virtual meeting on desert locusts in Southwest Asian countries (Afghanistan, India, Iran and Pakistan) was held on March 11, 2020 in New Delhi, India.
  • The state government has sanctioned a sum of Rs 1 crore for containing locust attacks.
  • A detailed action plan to check the invasion of locust swarms has been prepared by the state agriculture department. 
  • As part of the plan, agriculture officers have been asked to maintain strict vigil in their respective areas. Surveys will be conducted, especially in areas bordering Pakistan and Rajasthan.
  • Despite the prevailing COVID-19 lockdown, the Locust Control Offices are working since April 11, 2020 with 50 spray equipment/vehicles, in coordination with officials of District Administration and State Agriculture Department, according to Union Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Minister. 
  • Tractor mounted sprayers and fire-tender vehicles deployed at various locations are being used in locust control. Additional equipment are also being procured to increase the control capacity of Locust Control Organisations.

Last year, the state governments had assisted farmers through schemes focusing on the use of pesticides and tractor mounted sprayer. During the year 2019-20, there was a massive locust attack in India, which was successfully controlled by the Locust Circle Office personnel with the State Agriculture and District Administration officials. Control operations were conducted from May 21, 2019 to February 17, 2020; and a total of 4,03,488 hectares of area were treated and locust swarms controlled, as per the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare.

India, clearly, needs to be watchful in the months ahead. "We need to be alert and anticipate where this is going next. The situation is all the more alarming as it comes at a time when the affected states are already reeling under Covid-19 and the ongoing heatwave.