Excessive rains brought in locust swarms: ScientistsUpdated: Feb 04, 2020, 23:46 IST
Locust swarms that entered Fazilka in Punjab on Monday after ravaging mustard, gram and wheat crops in the border districts of Rajasthan like Barmer, Bikaner and Jaisalmer were the result of excess rains in northwest India in November, December and January, scientists said.
Locusts were also seen in parts of Haryana bordering Rajasthan, which has led to agricultural scientists issuing advisories to farmers, but no swarm has reached Haryana yet.
“This year in November, December and January we had a series of western disturbances which brought excess rainfall to this region. Wet environment is conducive for locusts to breed. They come from Iran and Iraq where if there is a wet spell there is vegetation in the desert. Locusts feed on it. They breed in wet sandy soil. Our understanding is that meteorological factors this year may have intensified their attacks,” said Prabhjyot Kaur Sidhu, principal scientist (agri met) at Punjab Agricultural University.
“The western disturbances (WD) have been frequent and active this year, bringing in a lot of rain. In January, we saw 10 Western Disturbances instead of the usual three or four. In February also, usually there are three WDs, but there will be two in the first week itself,” said RK Jenamani, senior scientist at IMD.
Pakistan has declared a national emergency due to locus attacks, according to the Dawn newspaper. The locusts are currently at the Cholistan Desert close to the Pakistan-India border, PTI quoted national food security minister Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar as saying on February 2.
“We don’t want to create panic because no swarm has entered Haryana yet. They like moist loose sandy soil for breeding; it’s unusual to see them attack in winter. Climate change-led unusual rains may be a factor. If they attack here (Haryana) we will have to spray Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO- recommended insecticides. Another way to deal with them is to burn all the vegetation where they are settled. But that would mean burning trees and crop,” said Yogesh Kumar, head of entomology at Haryana Agricultural University.
Farmers in locust-infested regions of Rajasthan are demanding that locust attacks be declared a “natural disaster.” “Very large stretches of farm land have been completely destroyed in Ganganagar, Bikaner, Barmer, Churu and Jaisalmer. It is such a dangerous pest that it can destroy trees and crops in a few hours. We have read that the state government is planning to compensate for damage only for loss in 2 ha of cropland by paying only Rs 27,000. It is nothing compared to the damage in these districts,” said Bhagirath Mann, Bharatiya Kisan Union representative in Bikaner.
Virender Singh Lather, former principal scientist at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, said the attack was intense and prolonged this year because of lack of surveillance by international agencies in Africa and the Middle East. “The problem usually begins in north central Africa and travels out, if not contained there. There is usually surveillance by the FAO but there was lax surveillance this year. The problem was also not contained in Pakistan.”
Lather said locust attacks may increase in April when the temperature rises. “It can be a dangerous situation if conditions are conducive for egg-laying,” he added.
“Agromet experts are right. We have had above average rains this winter and moist conditions in northwest India due to back-to-back western disturbances,” said DS Pai, senior scientist at the India Meteorological Department (IMD), Pune. From January 1 to February 4 there was 54% above normal rainfall in north-west India and 127% above normal rainfall in west Rajasthan. There were seven western disturbances in January against an average of two to three.”
KK. Singh, head of Agromet Advisory Services Division at IMD, said, “It’s a sensitive issue. I will not comment.”
The National Agromet Advisory Service Bulletin for the January 31 to February 4 period said: “On arrival/attack of locusts in Sriganganagar and Hanumangarh districts of Rajasthan, inform immediately to locust control room…in arid Western Plain Zone of Rajasthan, where there is attack of locusts in Bikaner and Jaisalmer districts, apply Chloropyriphos (50%) 1 ml/litre or (20%) 2.5 ml/litre of water in standing crops; in Haryana, farmers are advised to keep vigil and immediately contact the nearest Krishi Vigyan Kendra if they notice the locusts.”