In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, India has to fight another battle against the swarms of locusts that have entered the western parts of India. They have already made their way into Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
The country is well aware of the risk of a swarm invasion just before the onset of the seasonal monsoon, during May and July, in Rajasthan and Gujarat. These swarms originate in the Arabian Peninsula and Horn of Africa. The Locust Warning Organization (LWO) follows a relevant contingency plan in such cases.
The plan includes a control strategy to reduce the frequency, duration and intensity of plagues. This strategy comprises regular surveys to provide early warning and contingency planning to allow early and effective response before the situation becomes out of control.
Previous locust control campaigns
India has been a victim of various locust plagues and upsurges since 1812 to 1997. However, no locust upsurges have taken place since December 2011.
Apart from the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare, other ministries such as home, defence, external affairs, civil aviation, communication, state departments and other relevant stakeholders are involved in the contingency plan.
Use of pesticides for locust control
Malathion 96 percent ULV is used in Desert Locust control in India. A buffer of minimum 5,000 litres of Malathion 96 percent ULV will be maintained at specific LCOs from where pesticide can be mobilised for immediate requirement.
As per an agreement in 2014, Hindustan Insecticides Limited (HIL) supplies the required quantity of pesticide. The company will keep ready stock of 8,000 litres Malathion 96 percent technical reserve. Also, upon receiving demand from the Directorate of Plant Protection, Quarantine and Storage, it will supply the desired quantity of the formulation to the Locust Circle Offices within 7-10 days of the supply order.
The company will get 25-30 days to supply the pesticide if a larger quantity is needed.
Aircraft for locust control
There is no aviation agency in India for controlling desert locust. The present COVID-19 situation does not make it easy to arrange it since the government of India does not possess its own aircraft for locust control operations. Still, “efforts will be made” for the supply of aircraft with spraying kits for desert locust control purposes, a government document says.
Emergency fund for locust control
The Locust Scheme is a part of the annual Budget while the allocated amount is different every year. Nevertheless, at the time of a locust emergency, the funds are diverted immediately from other schemes to meet the exigencies. These emergency funds are released when an emergency is declared by the Plant Protection Adviser in consultation with FAO Desert Locust Information Service (DLIS) in Rome.
Read the complete plan here