Quick Take

Dealing with invasion of locusts

| Updated on May 11, 2020 Published on May 11, 2020

Even as we battle Covid-19, we can’t afford to ignore this latest problem that was reported recently in Rajasthan

Climate change, along with the conditions in sparsely inhabited and lawless parts of the world, has contributed to the resurgence of one of the oldest scourges known to mankind. Swarms of locusts have appeared, midwifed by cyclones that have given rise to unusual levels of rainfall and created ideal breeding conditions in remote corners of the globe like Somalia’s Puntland area, Arabia’s Empty Quarter and regions like Yemen, where war prevents effective spraying operations. From there, the locusts munched their way through Iran to Balochistan, Sindh and Pakistan’s Punjab to the Indian States of Punjab, Gujarat and Rajasthan. A medium-sized swarm hit Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer and Barmer districts a few days ago, and now officials are waiting for much larger swarms to arrive from across the border. Locusts breed exponentially, and the swarm that attacked in December-February will likely be 20 times larger this time. Other swarms are threatening food security in countries like Kenya and Uganda.

India’s probably the best-equipped country in this region to fight the locust plague, but the last serious infestation took place almost 26 years ago, and we were initially unprepared to tackle the problem. Also, there were communication gaps between State governments and the Centre, which takes the lead in the locust fight. But this time around, the size of the task force sent to the region is much larger than before, and equipped with drones and aeroplanes to conduct spraying; but then again, the swarms are likely to be much bigger too. Back in 1950, when India was unable to exterminate the swarms, they crossed all the way to what was then East Pakistan and the scourge lasted there for several years. Fortunately, locust swarms are one subject where India and Pakistan have maintained strong cooperation even as ties have frayed. India-Pakistan delegations have met five times in recent months to discuss extermination strategies.

In December, India was about to sell pesticide to Pakistan, but China stepped in to prevent what might have been a politically awkward purchase for the Imran Khan government. Also, governments around the world have been focussing almost exclusively on Covid-19, and that’s resulted in less attention being paid to locusts. In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organisation last year asked countries around the world to kick in $76 million for pest-control operations. There’s a worry though now that cash transfusion might not materialise in wake of the strain Covid-19 has put on government budgets.

Climate change experts say global warming could lead to more frequent locust infestations. That’s because warming oceans could result in more frequent cyclones in the Indian Ocean, and those in turn would bring greater rainfall in normally arid zones like the Empty Quarter, creating hospitable breeding conditions. The lesson from all this is that even as we battle Covid-19, we can’t afford to ignore dangers like locust infestations. We need to be eternally vigilant, keep the latest equipment and employ the best scientific know-how to fend off such threats.

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Published on May 11, 2020
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