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Crisis within a crisis: Amid coronavirus lockdown, parts of India now battle locust attacks

On May 25, parts of Jaipur were teeming with these insects, which had reportedly come into the city from Nagaur, and were now moving towards Dausa

May 26, 2020 / 10:49 PM IST

Even as the country is in the middle of its battle against the coronavirus pandemic, another trouble has made an appearance. Swarms of locusts have entered the western parts of India, having made their way into the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

On May 25, parts of Jaipur were teeming with these insects, which had reportedly come into the city from Nagaur, and were now moving towards Dausa.

Images and videos of swarms entering the city have been doing the rounds on social media.


This followed reports of a locust swarm invasion in the Mandsaur district of MP on May 24. Several parts of North India have sounded the alarms for the ongoing influx of the insects, which could endanger crops.

The Locust Warning Organisation (LWO), under the agriculture department, had earlier said that during the first half of May, immature adult groups/swarms (of locusts) were observed at Jaisalmer, Barmer, Jodhpur, Phalodi, Bikaner, Nagaur and Ganganagar in the state, and consequently control operations were undertaken at several spots covering nearly 21,700 hectares. The LWO had forecast locust invasions in India from spring breeding areas in the days to come.

As per the Food and Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) latest update on May 21, "spring breeding continues in southern Iran and southwest Pakistan where control operations are in progress against hopper groups and bands as well as an increasing number of adult groups".

The FAO has also warned that as vegetation dries out, more groups and swarms will form and "move from these (spring breeding) areas to the summer breeding areas along both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border as several waves from now until at least early July".

"Good rains are predicted during the first half of June along the Indo-Pakistan border that would allow egg-laying to occur. This should reduce the further eastward movement of swarms that have already arrived in Rajasthan," it added.

This is the second round of locust attack in India. The December-February period witnessed the first one, when control teams were deployed to bring the situation under control.

So, what are locusts?

Locusts are migratory pests that wreak havoc on crops. Desert locusts, the kind that we are now witnessing in parts of the country, are one type of grasshoppers, but far more devastating than the common garden variety.

Over the years, there have been instances of countries experiencing what is commonly referred to as "locust plague". When huge swarms of locusts infest several countries and spread across regions or continents, it becomes a plague.

According to the FAO, a plague of desert locusts, the most destructive locust species of all, can easily affect 20 percent of the Earth's land, potentially damaging the livelihoods of one-tenth of the world's population and seriously affecting food security.

What damage can locusts cause? Any economic impact? 

Desert locusts are usually restricted to arid and semi-arid desert regions, roughly across 30 countries. But during an upsurge or a 'plague', these can move to as many as 60 countries. They cause immense damage to crops and can impact the food security situation of a nation.

To put that in context: an adult desert locust can consume its own weight in fresh food per day. This means just one small swarm of about a square kilometre has the potential to eat the same amount of crops in one day as 35,000 people. Thus, failure to take timely action to contain these insects can have a severe impact on crops and vegetation, so much so that it will drive up hunger in regions already struggling with high levels of food insecurity.

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Tanya Khandelwal
first published: May 25, 2020 04:52 pm
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