Massive locust invasion threatens Gujarat farmers

Border districts most affected; authorities caught napping despite FAO warning.

December 25, 2019 11:50 pm | Updated December 26, 2019 12:04 pm IST - Ahmedabad

Locusts invade farms at Tharad village in north Gujarat on Wednesday.

Locusts invade farms at Tharad village in north Gujarat on Wednesday.

Sharing borders with neighbouring Pakistan, Gujarat is under attack from hoppers — new-born locusts — that have flown in across the international border. As the swarms mature, they have ravaged farms in North Gujarat, devastating farmers in the three border districts Banaskantha, Patan and Kutch.

The locusts, known as tiddis locally, have wreaked havoc on standing crops of castor, cumin, jatropha, cotton, and potato, and fodder grass in around 20 talukas.

Gujarat has not witnessed such an invasion of locusts since 1993-94.

According to local experts, the State administration has been caught napping despite an alert from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of a massive locust attack in South Asia covering Pakistan and India.

Also, the Locust Warning Organization (LWO) in Jodhpur had noticed the swarms and predicted their trajectory across the international border. However, preventive measures by the authorities were not taken.

Among the four districts, Banaskantha is the worst affected. The insects fly in during the day and settle on the farms at night making it difficult to ward off the swarms. The farmers under seige are hiring workers and using age old techniques like beating drums and vessels to scare the locusts away without much success.

“It’s a massive issue in Banaskantha, Patan, Kutch and parts of Sabarkantha and Mehsana. We are trying to help farmers in containing damage to their crops,” Gujarat’s Agriculture Minister R.C. Faldu said, adding the “government also explored the possibility of sprinkling pesticides and chemicals through choppers in affected areas.”

Rather late in the day, the authorities have finally stepped in with more modern techniques to combat the voracious invasion. The State administration along with the central teams has launched huge pesticide-spraying operation to kill the insects.

“A massive swarm of locusts spread in approximately 10 square kilo metre area has arrived in Tharad, the last taluka before the India-Pakistan border,” Banaskantha District Collector Sandeep Sangle told The Hindu . “We have started spraying pesticides to tackle the menace.”

Warnings ignored

According to the Agriculture Ministry’s Locust Warning Organisation (LWO), locusts are flying in from Pakistan’s Sindh province and spreading in villages in Rajasthan and Gujarat where south western monsoon had prolonged this time.

Originally, the locusts emerged in February this year from Sudan and Eritrea on Africa’s Red Sea Coast and travelled through Saudi Arabia and Iran to enter Pakistan, where they invaded the Sindh province and from there they moved into Rajasthan and Gujarat.

The government has now assured farmers that the administration will carry out a survey to assess the damages and will accordingly compensate farmers. However, farmers feel that the government’s efforts and assurance are too little and too late.

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