Locust threat is bigger this year, warns Agriculture Ministry monitor

Winged menace: The locusts are immature and have crossed the India-Pakistan border soon after their birth.  

The threat of locusts, which have invaded vast swathes of land in Rajasthan and entered neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, is bigger this year in comparison with the damage caused to standing crops in a limited area in 2019. The tropical grasshoppers have been crossing over to India via Pakistan’s Sindh province since April 11.

Watch | Locust attack in India

The Union Agriculture Ministry’s Locust Warning Organisation (LWO), headquartered in Jodhpur, said on Wednesday that the locusts that came last year, after a gap of 26 years, were mature and had affected 12 districts of the State. “This time, the locusts are immature and have crossed the India-Pakistan border soon after their birth,” LWO Deputy Director K.L. Gurjar told The Hindu.

Immature locusts, which are not fully grown, have the capacity to cause more harm as they have a longer lifespan. Dr. Gurjar said the breeding grounds in Balochistan were responsible for the movement of 10 to 12-day-old locusts towards the Thar desert, from where they were flying huge distances in search of food. The grasshoppers, which flew out from Sudan and Eritrea on Africa’s Red Sea Coast after excess rains, were earlier breeding in Iran.

Pak. measures ineffective

“Though Pakistan has claimed that it is taking action to eliminate the breeding grounds of insects, their control measures do not seem to be effective,” Dr. Gurjar said. While Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority has arranged aircraft and helicopters for the aerial spray of insecticides, locusts have destroyed crop in the cotton-producing belt of Sindh.

Also read: Ten U.P. districts on alert after locust swarms attack crops in neighbouring Rajasthan, M.P.

Dr. Gurjar said Pakistan was unable to control the locust population because of their sheer number. The anti-locust spraying in the deserts of Thar and Cholistan has also proved to be ineffective, and huge swarms, aided by high-speed winds, have flown in to the Indian side of the Thar desert.

A bigger challenge is likely to emerge when the swarms flying over 20 districts in Rajasthan start breeding. The locusts will start laying eggs after the onset of monsoon and continue breeding for two more months, with new insects being born during the growth phase of the kharif crops.

Also read: Marauding locust swarms killed in Dausa with insecticide spray

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation has warned of more attacks of locusts along both sides of the India-Pakistan border. “The swarms will move to the summer breeding areas near the border as several waves till early July. Good rains that would allow egg-laying to occur should reduce eastward movement of swarms that have already arrived in Rajasthan,” the FAO said in its May 21 update.

Cattle feed destroyed

Since the Rabi crop harvesting is over in the State and the Kharif sowing season is yet to start, locusts were unable to find vegetation in agricultural fields. According to the Agriculture Department, the insects were destroying cattle feed in pasture land, which was a major concern for cattle rearers in the drought-affected districts.

Also read: India reaches out to Pakistan to fight locusts

The Agriculture Department on Wednesday deployed a drone on a trial basis for the spray of insecticides on locusts in Jaipur district’s Samod area. The drone was used for sprinkling chemicals on a 2.5-acre area during a flight of 15 minutes.

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Printable version | Jun 15, 2021 5:26:17 AM |

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