Copters, new gear to fight locust invasion amid warning in 16 states

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By
May 29, 2020 08:19 AM IST

Officials have increased the vigil to counter a possible locust attack in Punjab, Haryana and Uttarakhand. Punjab is highly vulnerable as swarms of locusts were seen in Rajasthan’s Hanumanagrh district for a third day on Thursday.

Swarms of desert locusts, which according to a UN alert pose a “severe” risk to the country’s agriculture this year, have reached new locations, chomping through vegetation and crops across farmlands in Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, leading the Centre to issue a locust warning to 16 states.

Swarm of locusts seen abive a field in Damoh district of Madhya Pradesh on Wednesday.(PTI)
Swarm of locusts seen abive a field in Damoh district of Madhya Pradesh on Wednesday.(PTI)

Locusts can fly up to 150 km a day and a one-square-kilometre swarm can eat as much food as 35,000 people in a single day, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Desert Locust Information Service bulletin.

The government has readied a fleet of air force helicopters for spraying pesticides, set up 11 new monitoring stations, and is importing new equipment to fight the invasion.

Also Read: As locusts invade Maharashtra, Centre assures Mumbai not in their path

Locust swarms have damaged orange, mango orchards and paddy fields in Bhandara, Gondia, Nagpur and Amravati districts of Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region. Maharashtra’s joint director (agriculture) Ravi Bhonsale said a team was rushed to Bhandara on Thursday to spray pesticides in the affected areas. “Timely action averted any major loss to crops,” he said.

A locust swarm entered Ghorawal in Uttar Pradesh’s Sonbhadra from Madhya Pradesh on Wednesday afternoon and damaged crops across several villages in the district , which borders Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. “The damage was not much as most of the vegetables and other crops have been harvested,” said district agriculture officer Piyush Rai.

Also Read: About 90,000 hectares hit by locust in 20 Rajasthan districts

Farmers in Agra heaved a sigh of relief on Thursday as locusts from Dausa in Rajasthan moved towards Bhangarh in Rajasthan. “Three locust swarms have moved away from Agra and the one nearest moved towards Madhya Pradesh due to the wind flow,” said district plant protection officer Ram Pravesh Verma. He added the threat continued from the locust swarm traced to Dausa, around 140 km away. Verma said on Thursday a swarm was within 30 km of Agra but due to sudden change in wind directionm it got diverted towards Gwalior. “We are keeping a constant watch,” Verma said.

Plant protection division joint director Suwa Lal Jat said the locust threat has been controlled in an area spread over 73,000 hectares in Rajasthan. He added 95,000 hectares was earlier affected across 24 districts in the state. “... Barmer, Jodhpur, Ganganagar, Dausa, Bikaner and Hanumangarh are badly affected,” he said. Jat said a swarm was present between Jaipur and Dausa and may either settle in Alwar or Dausa. Alwar is 100 km from Delhi.

Officials have increased the vigil to counter a possible locust attack in Punjab, Haryana and Uttarakhand. Punjab is highly vulnerable as swarms of locusts were seen in Rajasthan’s Hanumanagrh district for a third day on Thursday.

Punjab agriculture secretary KS Pannu said authorities in Fazilka, Bathinda and Muktsar districts that border Rajasthan have been equipped with ample stock of pesticides to deal with the locust attack.

“Farmers are not being able to sow new crops. We have not seen such an invasion before,” said Raminder Uppal, a locust control official in Punjab’s Fazilka.

Haryana and Uttarakhand governments have set up district control rooms to coordinate locust control operations. Officials in these states said that drones have also been procured to spray chemicals and fire tenders and trackers with chemicals were on standby for pest control operations.

Farmers maintained vigil hundreds of kilometers away in Karnataka’s Bidar as locusts were expected from western Maharashtra, where they reached on Tuesday. State agriculture minister B C Patil said the wind direction suggested the locust swarm was unlikely to reach Karnataka. “There is a 99.99% chance that it [the swarm] will not come to Karnataka. So, farmers need not worry,” he said

In Delhi, Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar reviewed the mitigation measures on Thursday. In a statement, Tomar’s office said the government was taking the invasion “very seriously” as it could afflict damages in the crucial rice-planting Kharif season beginning next month.

India is in the process of importing new equipment to deal fight the infestation. Currently, locust control offices have 21 “Micronair” and 26 “Ulvamast” sprayers to kill the pests. They are specialised sprayers that use malathion and other agents to contain the pests.

The agriculture minister has approved the import of 60 sprayers from the Micron Group of the UK, which is a manufacturer of specialist spraying equipment. The ministry also floated bids for drones for aerial spraying of insecticides for effective control over tall trees and inaccessible areas. Helicopters are being readied for deployment, an official said.

These pests have to be controlled before farmers begin sowing summer-sown, or kharif, crops during the June-to-September monsoon season.

The ministry of civil aviation has approved “conditional exemption to government entity” for use of remotely piloted aircraft systems for anti-locust operations. The equipment being imported from the UK will begin arriving in the next 15 days, another official said.

“Usually, locust swarms enter the Scheduled Desert Areas of India through Pakistan for summer breeding in the month of June and July with the advent of monsoon. This year, however, the incursions of locust hoppers and pink swarms have been reported much earlier because of the presence of a residual population of locust in Pakistan which they couldn’t control last season,” an agriculture ministry statement said.

A surge in locust attacks since last year is being attributed to favourable breeding weather caused by a large number of cyclones in East Africa. India, China and Pakistan face the most risk in Asia, according to the UN. Pakistan has already declared an agricultural emergency.

Locust attacks are known to cause a considerable drop in agricultural output. A moderate infestation chomped through winter crops in an estimated 300,000 hectares in Rajasthan and Gujarat in January. The crucial summer-sown season begins next month.

(With inputs from Varanasi,Nagpur and Bathinda)

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    Zia Haq reports on public policy, economy and agriculture. Particularly interested in development economics and growth theories.

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