The threat of the largest locust attack in 27 years is looming over the north-western states in India amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Locusts are essentially harmless creatures, unless they become more plentiful, in which case they can have devastating effects on their path of movement.
When locusts come together and form swarms, they become gregarious and start breeding more rapidly. These swarms become denser and keep moving, damaging crops on the way.
There are primarily four types of locusts that can form swarms – desert locusts, migratory locusts, Bombay locusts and tree locusts. The locusts that have swarmed over UP, Punjab, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh this time consist of the desert locusts, which is majorly caused by damp environmental conditions or strong rain.
Desert locusts breed faster and keep moving in search of food. Since crops are easily and openly available in the paddy fields, they tend to settle there and consume the entire quantity of crops on the same field. They also adapt and bring about behavioural changes in suitable environments and even tend to change colours.
The agricultural-climatic zone, starting from Africa, including the middle east upto the Asian belt is currently reeling under these locust attacks. The Pakistan government has declared an emergency as the locust swarms have damaged abundant crops and wreaked havoc. Pakistan’s National Action Plan (NAP) has allotted a sum of 7.3 billion Pakistani rupees to overcome the crisis.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) had put out a warning on March 2 that had described the situation as extremely alarming, especially in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.
Cyclones in 2018 had resulted in the breeding of three generations of Desert Locusts, according to the FAO. In January 2019, the swarms had first entered Yemen, followed by southwest Iran where heavy rainfall had occurred. By the end of 2019, the swarms had moved from Ethiopia and North Somalia up to North East Kenya. February 2020 saw the swarms reaching both the ends of the Persian Gulf.
It was only a matter of time that these locust swarms entered India.
The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change confirmed that locust swarms from Pakistan have entered Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh, threatening major damage to standing cotton crops and vegetables.
Rajasthan is the most affected state. This year, locust swarms have entered India earlier than their usual time period of June and July. States are adopting various means for controlling the swarms.
Crops in danger
According to a report published in The Hindu, a swarm of desert locusts containing around 40 million insects can destroy food that could suffice the hunger need of 35,000 people, assuming that one person consumes around 2.3 kg of food every day.
According to experts, if the locusts are not controlled, the standing Moong crops worth around Rs 8,000 crore in Madhya Pradesh could be destroyed. If they are allowed to travel further, cotton and chilly crops worth several thousand crores of rupees could also be damaged. The pests may also ruin fruits and vegetable nurseries.
Farmers have been asked to keep the locusts away using loud sounds through drums, banging of utensils and shouting.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare has deployed drones, satellite-derived tools, special fire-tenders, and sprayers at pre-identified border locations. Four teams of the central government have been helping the state agricultural department to fight these pests by using chemical sprays.
India has also launched a trilateral plan along with Iran and Pakistan to battle this crisis. A part of the plan involves India and Pakistan coordinating locust control operations along the border. India is also to facilitate the supply of Malathion — pesticide — to Pakistan.