Worst locust attack in 26 years: All about the latest threat amid Covid-19 outbreak
Standing crops and vegetables in at least five states in the country face a major threat as swarms of locust have been reported a month in advance.
The Union environment ministry warned in a statement last week that locust swarms have entered Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh.
It said Rajasthan is the most affected state and added the swarm has entered the country earlier than expected.
Uttar Pradesh has also reported the attacks and there is an alert for Maharashtra as well as Delhi.
The United Nations (UN) has warned that armies of locusts swarming across continents pose a “severe risk” to India’s agriculture this year.
What are locusts?
Locusts are the oldest migratory pests in the world, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
These insects differ from ordinary grasshoppers in their ability to change behaviour and form swarms that can migrate over large distances. The most devastating of all locust species is the Desert Locust (schistocerca gregaria), according to the FAO.
The locusts, which are considered to be among the most dangerous pests known to humanity, reproduce fast — 20-fold within three months — the FAO experts noted.
An adult locust can eat quantity equal to its weight daily, and just a single square kilometre of the swarm can contain up to 80 million adults, they said.
Locusts can fly up to 150km daily and a one square km swarm can eat as much food as 35,000 people in terms of weight in a single day.
What has pushed the outbreak?
The recent locust outbreak along the India-Pakistan border may have been driven by the longer-than-usual monsoon across the region, and frequent cyclones in the Indian Ocean, scientists say.
“The current locust outbreak is the biggest in 25 years in Ethiopia and Somalia, 26 years in India, 70 years in Kenya,” Keith Cressman, locust forecasting officer at FAO told PTI.
“The outbreak started after heavy amounts of rains over east Africa and the Arabian Peninsula,” Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) in Pune added.
Koll noted heavy rains, which drove the locust outbreak, occurred due to intense storm activity sourced from the Arabian Sea during the last two seasons.
“Heavy rain triggers the growth of vegetation in arid areas where desert locusts can then grow and breed,” he said.
Koll explained that recently climate change accentuated the phenomenon called the “Indian Ocean Dipole”, with warmer than usual waters to its west, and cooler waters to its east.
“On top of that, the rising temperatures due to global warming made the Western Indian Ocean particularly warm,” he said.
Cressman said the current locust invasion in India by an unprecedented number of swarms originated in southern Iran from their breeding in spring last year.
“Summer breeding along both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border was much higher than normal due to the swarm invasion and the monsoon rains lasting one month longer than normal, allowing up to three generations of breeding,” Cressman said.
What is the government doing?
Authorities across the country have said they have stepped up vigil, deployed drones to detect their movement and held talks with Pakistan, the most likely gateway for an invasion by the insects, on ways to minimise the damage.
The government is also considering importing equipment from the UK, apart from deploying drones, satellite-derived tools, special fire-tenders and sprayers at pre-identified border locations.
What’s the latest status?
On Monday, locusts were seen flying over Jaipur even as officials of the agriculture department said the swarm over the city was on its way to Dausa. Officials said the swarm that flew over Jaipur city came from Nagaur.
More than half of Rajasthan’s 33 districts are affected by invasion by these insects, which are traditionally known to be attacking western Rajasthan districts bordering Pakistan.
Swarms of locusts arrived in Malhargarh area of Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur district on Sunday.
“Scientists from central locust team and agricultural science department conducted an exercise and removed around 60% of them by spraying,” said Manoj Pushp, Mandsaur District Magistrate.
The Jhansi district administration in Uttar Pradesh has directed fire brigade to keep its vehicle ready with chemicals following a sudden movement of a swarm of locusts.
“The villagers along with the common public has been told to inform the control room about the movement. The locusts will go places where there is green grass or greenery. Hence, details about the movement at such places must be shared,” Andra Vamsi, Jhansi’s district magistrate, said.
Kamal Katiyar, the deputy director of the agriculture department, said the swarm of locusts, which is moving, is small in size.
“We have got the news that nearly 2.5 to a 3-kilometre long swarm of locusts has entered the country. A team has come from Kota (Rajasthan) to tackle the locusts,” Katiyar said.
At present, the locust swarm is at Bangra Magarpur in Jhansi. “Spraying of insecticides will be done in the night,” Katiyar said.
(With agency inputs)