Agri Business

With locusts swarms entering India every 2-3 days, there’s cloud over kharif crop

Rutam Vora/TV Jayan Ahmedabad/New Delhi | Updated on June 30, 2020 Published on June 30, 2020

Locusts rest on a tree in the residential areas of Allahabad   -  AFP

Hundreds of millions of locusts are entering India every second or third day, threatening to destroy just-planted kharif crops in many States, a top government official said on Tuesday.

“Locusts are entering India every 2-3 days and each swarm is as vast as 3-6 square kilometres,” said KL Gurjar, Deputy Director, Locust Warning Organisation (LWO). Typically, a swarm of 1 sq km has anywhere between 40 and 80 million locusts and they can in a day devour foodgrains enough to feed 35,000 people. The current locust attacks that commenced last year, after a gap of 26 years, are said to have been triggered by extreme weather events linked to climate change.

Farmers are a worried lot as the kharif crop is just at the vegetation stage and the raiding locusts can potentially destroy the entire vegetation.

Control operations

As locusts started spreading to newer areas, India became the first country in the world to press drones for spraying. Taking a further step, India has also decided to use helicopters for locust-control operations. A helicopter — Bell 206-B3 — fitted with spraying equipment was flagged off by Agriculture Minister Naerndra Singh Tomar from a helipad in Greater Noida on Tuesday. The copter will be stationed at Uttarlai Air Force Station at Barmer and is expected to undertake locust control operations in desert areas of Barmer, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Nagaur districts in Rajasthan.

Till Sunday, locust-control teams belonging to the LWO and the State governments have salvaged 2.33 lakh hectares in nine States. The maximum operation mounted was in Rajasthan where spraying covered 2.13 lakh hectares, followed by Madhya Pradesh where more than 15,500 hectares saved. Other States affected by these migratory pests include Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Bihar and Chhattisgarh.

“Most of these operations were ground-based, with aerial spraying covering only a small area. Now that more drones and helicopters are pressed into service, this could go up further,” said Gurjar. The advantage of aerial spraying is that it can more effectively destroy locusts which settle on tall trees for night. According to Gurjar, while locust swarms which came first in May were from Iran, those are coming in now are locust breeding areas in Pakistan.

FAO warning

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that many more waves of locusts could come to India from Africa and Oman crossing the Arabian Sea. They are expected to enter India through Gujarat, he said.

An official release issued by the Agriculture Ministry said with India ordering 70 ground-based spray equipment from the UK-based firm Micron, personnel involved ground spraying operations will have 100 spraying kits by July.

The government also plans to buy 55 additional vehicles for spraying operations, apart from providing funds for the purchase of 800 tractor-mounted spraying equipment by the Rajasthan government. Besides, financial assistance has been given to Rajasthan and Gujarat governments for hiring tractors and buying pesticides for locust-control operations.

Meanwhile, the Gujarat government said it was keeping a close watch on the movement of locusts from Rajasthan.

However, the bordering districts of Kutch and Banaskantha have not reported any fresh sightings in recent days but the administration is holding its ground in case of any attack.

Published on June 30, 2020
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