Agri Business

Attack by locust army will continue till July: FAO official

T V Jayan New Delhi | Updated on May 28, 2020

Official, however, says swarms are less likely to reach South

Locust invasions will continue in India till July and the pesky insects can reach all the way up to Odisha and Bihar with the monsoon winds and will return to Rajasthan subsequently, according to a top UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) official. However, he said, the swarms are less likely to reach South India, Nepal and Bangladesh

“Spring-bred immature adult groups and swarms that arrived in Rajasthan from the west continued to move east (to) eastern parts of the State and to the central States of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. As on May 26, at least one swarm had reached the north-east of Bhopal,” said Keith Cressman, Senior Locust Forecasting Officer at the FAO, in Rome.

“Much of these movements were associated with strong westerly winds from cyclone Amphan in the Bay of Bengal. Control operations are underway,” Cressman told BusinessLine in an email. He said these movements will cease as swarms begin to breed and become less mobile.

Early arrival

What surprised farmers and experts alike, however, is the early — more than a month — arrival of locusts. As India falls in the path of these migrating locusts they come regularly along with monsoon winds and go back as the monsoon retreats. However, since they arrived after the rabi harvest, the destruction of crops has been minimal so far, barring some summer crops in Rajasthan and M.P.

Farmers also said this was the worst locust attack in two decades or more. According to some experts, the locusts arrived early because of poor control of spring breeding of locusts in the border areas of Pakistan owing mainly to the Covid-related lockdown.

“As the current swarms contain mainly pink locusts (hyperactive juvenile locusts) controlling them using conventional chemical spraying is difficult. This is because unlike mature locusts, which rest on the ground at night, these juveniles settle on tall trees,” said a locust control officer posted in the border areas in Rajasthan.

The officer, who didn’t want to reveal his name, said the swarms of locusts have crossed the Thar desert through three different routes and moved through northern, southern and central parts of the State. According to the official, some swarms were 7-8 km long and 3-4 km wide. It is estimated that a sq km-sized swarm can contain 40-80 million locusts, which can eat up foodgrains that can feed 35,000 people a day.

According to a senior official at the Directorate of Plant Protection Quarantine and Storage at Faridabad, while local locust control operations using chemical spraying are already happening where swarms are sighted, the massive control action will have to wait till mid-June when India gets additional sprayers from a UK-based firm. According to the official, the government plans to engage drones to carry out such spraying operations.

More to come

According to Cressman, India can expect several successive waves of invasions until July in Rajasthan with eastward surges across northern India as far as Bihar and Orissa followed by westward movements and a return to Rajasthan on the changing winds associated with the monsoon. These movements will cease as the swarms begin to breed and become less mobile. The swarms are less likely to reach South India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, the FAO expert said.

Last year too, there was a massive locust attack and control operations initiated by authorities covered more than 4 lakh hectares, mainly in Rajasthan.

This year, Central and State government officials are undertaking locust control operations over a much larger area. According to an official release on Wednesday, operations are on in 21 Rajasthan districts, 18 Madhya Pradesh districts, two in Gujarat and one in Punjab.

Published on May 28, 2020

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