WHAT ARE LOCUSTS?
Locusts are insects that belong to the family of grasshoppers. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) describes them as the oldest migratory pests in the world, with the desert locust being the “most devastating” of them all.
Over the last few days, swarms of locusts have been sighted in urban areas of Rajasthan, which is unusual. Swarms have also been reported from parts of Madhya Pradesh and the Vidharbha region of Maharashtra. The first swarms were sighted along the India-Pakistan border on April 11, months ahead of the usual time of arrival.
After damaging the crops in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, swarms of locusts entered Uttar Pradesh’s Jhansi district Wednesday.
It is being described as the worst attack in 26 years.
However, the concentration of locusts has been in central Rajasthan and they are not expected to move towards Delhi in the next 24 hours, according to an official of the Rajasthan agriculture department.
A new wave of locust attacks has alarmed India’s farmers and experts warn of extensive crop losses if authorities fail to suppress fast-spreading swarms by June when monsoon rains spur rice, cane, corn, and cotton.
According to the UN body Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the locust’s attack pose a threat to the food security of the affected countries as an adult locust can eat a quantity equal to its weight of about 2 grams every single day.
That means a single square kilometer of the swarm can contain somewhere between 4 to 8 crore adult locusts. Every single day, if they cover 130-150 km, they can eat the food consumed by as many as 35,000 people, it said.
Although, Delhi has been on alert amid fears that the swarm of locusts may move towards the national capital depending on the wind speed.
Locust containment measures and sprinkling operations have been conducted in 300+ locations spread over more than 47,000 hectares by Wednesday.
Even with large-scale infestations, the government and agricultural experts do not foresee major crop damage for now as it is the lean season – the gap between the previous harvest and the next planting season.
“Despite the unprecedented scale of the locust attack, we haven’t seen any major crop loss, but we’ve got a very short window to tackle the problem. Otherwise, we won’t be able to save our summer crops,” said Bhagirath Choudhary, director of the South Asia Biotech Centre, a non-profit scientific society.
Earlier this month, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar chaired a meeting to take stock of the situation. Control involves spraying insecticide on locusts’ night resting places like trees. To date, the LWO has carried out spraying over 21,675 hectares in Rajasthan. India has also put an order of 60 specialized insecticide sprayers with the UK. Gurjar said the country already has 50 such machines. “Also, drones will be used to spray the resting places,” he said.
“There is a continuous locust invasion from Pakistan. It is not a new problem and we had been facing it for a long time. This year, the locust’s attack is worse in 26 years. However, a coordinated effort has been made to curb its spread,” a senior official from the Faridabad-headquartered LWO told news agency PTI.
India is engaged in its worst desert locust outbreak in decades with infestations radiating through much of the western states of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra, central state of Madhya Pradesh and Punjab, and Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in the north.