First major locust attack in Maharashtra since 1993; 3 districts hit
According to the state agriculture department, the swarm is reported to be at least 10-km-long and two-km-wide, which has covered a distance of around 120km between May 24 and 26, and it continues to spreadUpdated: May 27, 2020 00:41 IST
Maharashtra is facing its first major locust invasion since 1993, with a swarm of short horned grasshoppers having invaded six talukas across three districts — Amravati, Wardha and Nagpur — in Vidarbha. While major food crops are not under threat, fruit orchards and vegetable farms are likely to be affected.
According to the state agriculture department, the swarm is reported to be at least 10-km-long and two-km-wide, which has covered a distance of around 120km between May 24 and 26, and it continues to spread.
The main affected areas include 22 villages across Morshi and Warud talukas in Amravati; Ashti taluka in upper Wardha district; and Katol, Kalmeshwar and Narkhed talukas in Nagpur.
“The invasion began from Katol on Monday morning. While major crop damage is not expected since we are close to monsoon and sowing in these areas begins by June 7, but orange orchards are threatened by the invasion. A 25% loss is being estimated for those owning these orchards,” said Ravindra Bhosale, divisional joint director agriculture, Nagpur division.
“The swarm is now moving further deeper into rural areas of Nagpur division. At Kalmeshwar taluka, on Tuesday, we were informed of damage to vegetable crops across 5-6 hectares,” said Bhosale.
The last time Maharashtra witnessed such an invasion was in 1993 in Dhule district, the Locust Warning Organisation (LWO) under the Union agriculture ministry said.
“An escaping population of desert locusts made their way from Madhya Pradesh into Amravati district on May 24 owing to the current wind direction and the presence of forest patches where they can grow and breed. Over 48 hours, they have covered two more districts, showing an unusual swarming behaviour,” said Dr KL Gurjar, deputy director and national coordinator on mitigating locust attacks, LWO.
Subhash Nagade, divisional joint director agriculture, Amravati division, said, “There is fear and panic among villagers and farmers. With the Covid-19 pandemic underway and extremely hot weather in Vidarbha, the locust outbreak has made the situation worse. We are working with the municipal authorities for awareness drives across all affected areas.”
Between Monday night and early Tuesday morning, district officials with the help of the fire department carried out a six-hour drive to kill the locusts by spraying pesticides on the affected areas in all three districts. “We learnt that the swarms move during the day and sleep on the fruit bearing citrus trees at night. Villagers informed us about their exact locations, and an overnight extermination drive saw thousands of dead insects across a 17-km stretch at Katol. However, on Tuesday morning, those that survived began swarming other talukas,” said Bhosale.
Nagade said a similar thing was witnessed in Amravati. “The swarm has reduced here and moved towards greener pastures in Wardha and Nagpur. However, we fear the possibility of another swarm making its way from MP,” he said.
“We are constantly in touch with local officers overseeing this. We expect the invasion to be controlled within a few days in Maharashtra. However, another escaping population from MP cannot be ruled out,” said Gurjar
The country is witnessing a severe locust outbreak active across Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and now Maharashtra. These rapidly reproducing crop munching pests can eat daily amounts equal to its weight, and can fly up to 150km in a day. Central and state bodies have stepped up efforts to control the menace as it poses crop vulnerability and threat to food safety if the outbreak is not contained.