As insects swarm farms in north Gujarat gobbling up crops, the State government has initiated an elaborate pesticide spraying operation in affected areas as it battles to counter the massive locust attack.
The State administration, with the help of the central government, has constituted more than 30 teams to spray pesticides in villages in Banaskantha, which is the worst affected district, and neighbouring Patan and Sabarkantha.
“To tackle the menace, 11 central teams have arrived in Gujarat,” a senior officer from the Ministry of Agriculture said. “They will take all necessary steps, including spraying of pesticides, to contain the attack. The teams will remain in the State until the problem is solved,” the officer added.
On Thursday, Gujarat’s Additional Chief Secretary (Agriculture) P.K. Parmar told mediapersons that the State had formed 30 teams to spray pesticides in the affected areas in north Gujarat.
Damage being assessed
According to Mr. Parmar, locusts had ravaged crops in about 6,000 hectares in the State and farmers would be provided compensation after a survey of the damage was done.
“With the use of pesticides, our teams have eliminated nearly 20% of locusts and in the next 3-4 days, more or less, entire swarms will be eliminated or they will fly away from the State,” he asserted.
According to local residents, the extent of impact on agriculture is much higher than what the State government has estimated as crops have been ravaged in about 100 villages in the affected districts.
“In our district Banaskantha, locusts have destroyed crops in entire Tharad, Vav, Deesa and other talukas,” said Ramabhai Desai, a local farmer from Deesa. “Our crops have been gobbled up by locust swarms,” he added.
According to local villagers, absence of an effective scientific method to combat the insects coupled with a delayed response from the State administration has put thousands of hectares of land at risk.
After much uproar in the media and embarrassment on the social media over the past few days, some ruling party leaders and Opposition leaders joined farmers in shooing away insects by beating steel plates with sticks or beating drums in the fields.
State BJP chief Jitu Vaghani and Member of Parliament Parbat Patel among other senior ruling party members were seen in the fields on Thursday, while Congress legislator, Ashwin Kotwal beat drums to combat the attack in his Khedbrahma seat.
Separately, farmers and youth are being provided ‘training’ and ‘knowledge’ by school principals and teachers in villages to tackle locusts.
However, ever since the first sighting a few weeks ago, the farmers have been applying improvised solutions to combat the swarms — some burnt tyres or dry straw, played drums or loud music, or put large fans besides beating steel plates.
Commenting on why the government hadn’t resorted to the use of advanced technologies including large vehicles and helicopters to spray the insecticides and contain the spread of locusts, Union Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Parshottam Rupala stated that the pesticides (malathion in this case) was highly toxic and posed a bigger health risk if sprayed aerially through helicopters.
“We are planning to experiment with drones. And also rope in private players (to combat the attack),” Mr. Rupala said on Thursday.
Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, while assuring compensation to farmers, on Thursday said, “We have formed special teams, comprising central and State government officials, to keep a watch on the movement of swarms and to spray pesticides. Till now we have sprayed pesticide over 1,815 hectares in Banaskantha.”
State officials, however, expressed apprehension about more locusts being present in neighbouring areas of Jalore district in Rajasthan and in the Tharparkar desert of Pakistan.
“Though we have been able to kill around 25% of locusts so far, it will take another four days for the teams to completely eliminate them,” Mr. Parmar said. “Looking at the wind patterns, it seems the locust swarms in Jalore and Tharparkar may not enter Gujarat,” he added.