Armed with pesticides, Mi-17 choppers fight locust swarms
New Delhi The Union government has pressed the Indian Air Force’s Mi-17 choppers with home-grown technology to control crop-devastating desert locusts, apart from deploying higher-capacity engine-powered drones and sorties by a Bell helicopter in affected states, as swarms continue to breed, officials said.
Air force pilots are using an in-house technology to spray atomised pesticides from the air, which has been able to track and kill large armies of locusts, an official said, requesting anonymity. On July 5, Mi-17 air force choppers doused large swarms of locusts in Jodhpur with atomised pesticides, a first in the battle against the pests. “The choppers were needed because they have better manoeuvrability and can target large trails of pests with a special form of the pesticide malathion, which has been indigenously developed,” the official said.
“Also, the civil aviation ministry on June 27 relaxed more rules, allowing the use of engine-powered drone of up to 50kg during night times,” a second official said.
An empowered group, led by the agriculture ministry, has decided to deploy more resources to protect robustly progressing kharif or summer-sown crops from the voracious pests.
Dozens of countries, from Kenya to Pakistan, are battling the worst locust outbreak in generations. The migratory insects are setting off from the Horn of Africa, where they are breeding in “insurmountable” numbers due to frequent cyclones, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
These cyclones are possibly linked to climate change, according to the FAO. The organisation has already warned the invasions pose a “serious” risk to India’s agriculture.
In the intervening night of July 3 and 4 , operations were carried out at 25 places in six districts including Jaisalmer, Barmer, Bikaner, Jodhpur, Nagaur, and Dausa of Rajasthan and in Uttar Pradesh’s Jhansi.
The farm ministry had signed a contract with the UK’s Micron Group to modify two Mi-17 helicopters for spraying atomized pesticides. The UK-based firm’s supply has now been delayed until September, the second official said.
The air force then tasked its “no. 3 base repair depot” in Chandigarh to indigenously design an airborne locust control system for Mi-17 helicopters. “The atomized airborne spraying has been successfully achieved in air through a configuration of nozzles mounted on both sides on external trusses of Mi-17 helicopters,” a statement said.
The pesticide malathion is filled in the internal auxiliary tank of 800 litres of the choppers, achieving nearly 40 minutes of spaying duration covering approximately 750 hectare in each mission. One hectare is roughly 2.5 acres.
Operations are continuing in six states -- Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana -- by locust circle offices.
“So far, the damage has been limited, of below 10%. But there seems to no control over breeding in Africa, where millions are at risk of food scarcity. So, we can’t let our guard down,” said Pramod Vajpayi, a former entomologist with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.