Locust Swarms Push Farmers to the Brink of Disaster

Gautam Kumar Das

Global warming due to climate change is one of the most important factors that accelerate the drift of locust swarm into the Indian subcontinent in unusual time, though wind has drifted the locust swarm into the fields of crops and greens from one country to another. At present, the desert locust swarm swash upon the farming lands tremendously in the numbers of states cause panic to the farmers community of the country. Despite surging corona viruses infection, super cyclonic devastation and heat waves in the country, locusts could push agrarian parts of India severally disrupting food supplies and slashing earnings for millions of struggling farmers that lead to the country to the brink of disaster.

The locust arrived in Pakistan from Iran in June, 2019, devouring cotton, wheat and maize, among other crops. The abnormal arrival of locust swarms, not in their preferred season, has been persisted due to favourable weather conditions as a consequence of global warming that enhance continuity of locust breeding. Typically, an insect under the Phylum Arthropoda found mainly in Africa, Arabia and West Asia, short-horned grasshopper locust belongs to the family Acridae, and the scientific name of such locust is Schistocerea gregaria. These desert locusts generally change their body forms periodically. The short-winged desert locusts, gregarious in nature, are migratory, but when they are long-winged forms, they supposed to be non-migratory species. Sometimes locust desert invades new areas, exploit crops through havoc consumption, results to from locust plagues. In a single day, a moderately sized swarm can eat as much food as 35,000 people and travel more than 100 miles.

Strong winds in recent weeks have blown the locusts farther into India. India’s locust problem began when millions of the insects flew in from Pakistan and Iran a few months ago. India faced a locust attack on the month of May and the swarm reached Jaipur for the first time. Swarms of locusts travelled through several areas of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh amid their worst invasion in years. The swarm entered Rajasthan in April from Pakistan and then spread to areas across the western states, helped by the strong winds.

The India Today reported that the locust swarm reached Agra of Uttar Pradesh at night on 29th June, 2020 after attacking villages in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The swarm had already attacked villages in Firozabad, Mathura, Bah and Pinahat tehsils of the district. District Horticulture Officer of Agra said the swarm comprised about 200 crore locusts, spread in an area of 10-12 km. This time standing crop of bajra has been badly affected by the locusts and severally damaged the trees and plants in the district. Villagers in Agra said this is the first time that the young generation has seen a locust attack. The District Agriculture Officer had directed his department for spraying pesticides in the farming lands with crops but had no much effect on the locust swarm. Farmers of the district spent overnight in their agricultural lands for making noises and generating smokes by lighting fires, but locusts settled down in at least 35 villages despite such efforts by the villagers. Locust menace also hitting Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu attacked banana, rubber and other crops in some districts.

At present the worst desert locust outbreak in three decades damaged crops in five states - Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra, though the centre issued a warning of locust swarm attack to 12 states. The locust started arriving in Rajasthan around first fortnight of April, much ahead of the normal July-October season. Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations has predicted with the eastward surges of the locust swarm surges across northern India as far as Bihar and Odisha followed by westward movements and a return to Rajasthan on the changing winds associated with the monsoon. Entomologists said that there is little chance of locust swarm entering the state of West Bengal. The government officials inform that the farmers should be refrained from anxiety of such locust’s attack.

Needless to mention that the locusts attacked West Bengal in 1965 for the last time. The agricultural department keep vigil on the movement of locust swarm and requisite preparations are to be made for remedial measures for the possible arrival of locust swarm and their attack in the agrarian sector of West Bengal. Arrival of locust swarm at present is not normal to the soil of West Bengal because locusts are tropical species and generally, they lay eggs on the sandy soils which are almost scarce in this state. Further, the agricultural fields in this state, at present moment, is lacking crop grains and greens that may prevent them from entering West Bengal, though the district agricultural officials and the minister for agriculture are still remain in uncertainty because of the arrival of locust swarm that only depend upon the wind flow and its direction. If the swarm of locust enter into the state in lakhs or crores, they are not to be controlled by spraying pesticides, but efforts are to be made for destruction of eggs, and it should be only solution for preventing from them - reported Down to Earth. 

Among countries in the Southeast Asia, Pakistan is the worst affected country due to attack by the locusts that poses a bigger threat to the economy of the country since June, 2019, though Pakistan has made plans to convert huge quantity of locust’s swarm into the bio-fertilizer. The Ministry of National Food Security and Research would be the pioneer in converting the locusts crisis into an opportunity by developing its bio-compost through community mobilisation. The locust-based fertliser will have an extra advantage for plenty of nitrogen and phosphorus when standard bio-compost would be made from a mix of locusts and other bio-wastes materials. The expected outcome from the project would be to enhance productivity of crops by 10-15%, reduction in use of chemical fertilisers up to 25%, that improve soil quality by changing soil organic matter, soil fertility and ultimately the soil health - The Express Tribune reported. But before than that, the locust swarm will consume all the food in an area and then migrate to seek another source of food. Locusts, by nature, continue to reproduce within short time while swarming that increase their number of populations. Locusts, larger in numbers, consume more crops and greens and other vegetation creating another disaster in the country and this will be the ultimate happening with the arrival and attack of locusts swarming and drifting with the blowing in the winds.

Jul 6, 2020

 Gautam Kumar Das

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