India’s locust control wing is oldest in world
India has the world’s oldest desert locust control programme. The British government established the Locust Warning Organisation (LWO) in 1939 in Karachi following a deadly locust plague between 1926 and 1931.
Between 1939 and 1946, the main function of the organization was surveillance in the Thar desert and issuance of warnings to the then Indian states about the possibility of desert locust swarms, their movement and breeding, according to the LWO’s Ready Reckoner.
In 1946, the LWO moved to Delhi under the directorate of plant protection, quarantine and storage under the ministry of agriculture and farmers welfare.
There were locust outbreaks of different intensities in India in 1812, 1821, 1843-44, 1863-67, 1869-73, 1876-81, 1889-98, 1900-1907, 1912-1920, 1926-1931, 1940-1946, 1949-1955, 1959-1962, 1978, 1993, 1997, 2005, 2010 according to the LWO.
Today, the LWO has 250 employees who survey locust populations and issue bulletins every fortnight that help farmers prepare for a locust invasion. LWO carries out locust surveys or population monitoring activities in line with a survey schedule finalized at the beginning of every locust season, prepares and submits the locust survey reports for the department of agriculture and cooperation; organizes and supervises locust control operations as and whensorequired; coordinates with state governments and the Border Security Force (BSF) for locust control operations, among others.
LWO also organises the Indo-Pak locust officers border meeting for exchange of information on locusts, situation in their respective countries during locust season (June to November), the Ready Reckoner says.
“Even when there is no locust attack as such, we are surveying and making reports. We also coordinate with the Food and Agriculture Organisation to prepare for possible outbreaks,” said KL Gurjar, deputy director, LWO.
Keith Cressman, senior desert locust officer at the FAO, said at a webinar organised by the Centre for Science and Environment last month: “India is well equipped. It has the oldest national locust programme” and so wasbetter prepared to handle the invasions during the current locust upsurge.
According to the FAO Commission for Controlling the Desert Locust in South-West Asia publication, the five-year invasion from 1926 to 1931 was estimated to have caused damage to crops alone of Rs 2 crore. Damage was also caused to fodder and pastures, resulting in heavy mortality among cattle, goats and sheep.
The report states that South West Asia has experienced several locust plagues in the past. Locusts are mentioned in Sanskrit literature, including the Mahabharata. It also finds mention in the Iranian Zoroastrian Vendidad, the tenth chapter of the Book of Exodus in the Bible and in the Al-Araf chapter 7 of the Quran.