Rajasthan battles locust invasion in 16 of 33 districts
The Locust Warning Organization (LWO) of the Union ministry of agriculture and farmer welfare warned of another attack in May-June this year.Updated: May 20, 2020 17:34 IST
Locusts that have crossed into Rajasthan from Pakistan are travelling far and wide across the state because of favourable wind conditions and lack of crops in the fields, officials said Wednesday.
Locust swarms were reported from Bundi, Sikar, Pratapgarh and Chittorgarh districts, they said.
“There’s no crop in the fields. Unable to find settling grounds and crops to devour, locust swarms are travelling far in search of food. The insects have also become irritable and fly at the sound of tractors or at sight of light when we launch control operations at night,” said Dr Om Prakash, agriculture commissioner.
Rajasthan had reported a locust invasion in May last year after a gap of 26 years and the attack continued until February this year, damaging crop across 670,000 hectares in 12 districts. The state put the loss due to the locust invasion at about Rs 1,000 crore.
In 2019, the swarms were first spotted in Jaisalmer.
The Locust Warning Organization (LWO) of the Union ministry of agriculture and farmer welfare warned of another attack in May-June this year. The first locust attack this year was reported in Ganganagar, a north Rajasthan district bordering Pakistan, on May 11.
LWO deputy director KL Gurjar said the Jodhpur-based organization feared last year that yellow matured adults may lay eggs in some places in Pakistan, leading to an outbreak in May-June this year.
The agriculture commissioner said locusts generally settle on vegetation after sunset and fly again at around 9-10 am the next day, giving control teams enough time to spray pesticides at them.
“This year, we are able to launch control efforts only around midnight because they are settling late. The current breed of locusts scuttles on hearing the sound of tractors, making our job more difficult. An unsettled swarm is highly mobile and can travel as much as 150 km a day if winds are favourable. These swarms can devour large quantity of vegetation and crops. The saving grace is, there’s no crop so there’s no damage,” he said.
Many districts that did not report swarms last year such as Sirohi, Ajmer, Bhilwara, Pali, Pratapgarh, Sikar and Jhunjhunu, are reporting them this year. So far, locusts have been reported from more than half of Rajasthan, covering 16 out of 33 districts.
Officials say that the desert locust has always been a major threat to man’s well-being. Just one small swarm of desert locust can eat the same quantity of crops in one day as 35,000 people. This year, there’s no damage so far. “Currently, they are settling on babool and khejdi trees,” Dr Om Prakash said.
Meanwhile, the state agriculture department has controlled the outbreak on around 40,000 hectares, he added.
Agriculture minister Lal Chand Kataria said the state government had provided 45 pickup vehicles to the LWO for their sprayers and deployed 70 vehicles for survey in fields. He said 600 tractor-mounted sprayers were also involved in control operations. “We have also invited bids for drones to spray pesticides in areas inaccessible to the vehicles,” he said.
LWO sprayers can reach up to 7-8 feet, and those on tractors go up to 15-20 feet. The department has engaged fire tenders for greater heights. “Around 150 teams are working in 14 districts to identify places where control operations need to be launched,” the minister said.
He said the department has provisioned Rs 5 crore for vehicles and Rs 10 crore for providing plant protection chemicals to farmers at 100% grant.
Meanwhile, according to a status report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), hopper groups, bands, and adult groups are present on the Indo-Pakistan border in Punjab of both countries.
“Migration from the spring breeding areas in Baluchistan has commenced, and several immature adult groups and swarms have appeared in Rajasthan,” it said.
The FAO has also released a global forecast according to which in addition to the current outbreak, locust swarms from new areas can also enter the Indian border from June 22.
Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 24 and May 11 to seek Centre’s help in dealing with locust attacks. The CM also told the PM about the outbreak in the state during a video conference on May 18.