The invasion of locusts had started from the India-Pakistan border on April 11 and they have now crossed the Thar desert and affected 16 of the 33 districts in Rajasthan, taking advantage of favourable wind conditions with the onset of summer.
Locust swarms have travelled far in search of food because of lack of vegetation in the agricultural fields after the rabi crop harvest.
State Agriculture Minister Lal Chand Kataria described the locust attack as the biggest threat in the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown, at an official meeting here on Wednesday, while giving instructions for controlling the spread of insects with the cooperation of farmers and through effective surveys.
The locust swarms have reached Sikar, Bundi, Bhilwara, Pratapgarh and Chittorgarh districts, situated far away from the desert. These are the areas where the tropical grasshoppers had not reached last year during its invasion which took place after a gap of 26 years and damaged crops across 6.70 lakh hectares in 12 districts. The loss caused by the invasion was pegged at ₹1,000 crore.
Mr. Kataria said the State government had provided 45 vehicles to Jodhpur-based Locust Warning Organisation of the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare for their sprayers and deployed 70 vehicles for surveys in the fields. While 600 tractor-mounted sprayers were also involved in the control operations, bids had been invited for drones to spray pesticides in the areas inaccessible to vehicles, he said.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation had recently warned that locusts were breeding in large numbers in Sudan and Eritrea on Africa’s Red Sea Coast as well as in Iran. With very little crops available in the fields, the locusts are settling on babool and khejri trees in the State, while the Agriculture Department has controlled the outbreak on about 40,000 hectares.
The grasshoppers emerged in January 2019 from eastern Africa and travelled through Saudi Arabia and Iran to enter Pakistan, where they invaded the cotton-producing belt of Sindh. The adult locusts then flew in to the Indian side of Thar desert, damaging the crops in western Rajasthan and northern Gujarat.
State Agriculture Commissioner Om Prakash said a provision of ₹5 crore had been made for hiring the vehicles for spraying high-intensity malathion insecticide and ₹10 crore for providing plant protection chemicals to the farmers at 100% subsidy. The districts had already prepared contingency plans to deal with the threat in view of last year’s locust attack, he said.
Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had sought Centre’s assistance to deal with the locust attack earlier this month and drawn Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attention to the need to compensate the farmers for their losses. A special crop assessment survey was undertaken in some of the affected areas earlier this year and ex-gratia assistance distributed to the farmers.