Indian farmers are already suffering from supply chain distortions and consequent financial crunch due to the COVID-19 outbreak. On top of that, the agricultural community is staring at another plague at the moment – a desert locust infestation!
These pests, that migrate in large groups, eat any and all crops that come in their way, causing endless woes to farmers and affecting food supply. A single swarm covering an area of one square kilometre can contain as many as 80 million locusts. One large swarm of locusts can consume crops as much as 35,000 people in a day. They breed rapidly and can cover up to 150 km daily.
A massive swarm of locusts entered India via Pakistan last month and have already wreaked havoc in five states. Onlookers have claimed the swarm was almost three kilometres long, reported the Diplomat. This poses an added food and economic security threat, especially in the arid and semi-arid regions, as the sowing period for kharif crops such as rice, maize, and pulses is due in June.
Locust sightings were first reported from the states bordering Pakistan, such as Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Punjab; they have now spread to Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Maharashtra.
In the desert state of Rajasthan, locusts have already wiped out more than 5,00,000 hectares of crops. The state has been reeling under a locust attack for three months now and lush green fields of rabi crops were destroyed in Bikaner and Barmer districts. Farmers in Jodhpur, Bundi, Karauli, and Jhalawar have also complained of large infestations, India Today reported.
Gujarat too has been battling locust infestation for more than five months now. Farmers in the districts of Amreli, Surendranagar, and Bhavnagar districts of Gujarat have already suffered greatly due to this.
In Madhya Pradesh, locust swarms have been spotted in 16 of its 52 districts. Latest media reports suggest, locust swarms have entered the districts of Chatarpur, Neemuch, Sehore, Sheopur, Mandsaur, Tikamgarh, Dewas, Raisen, Morena, Panna, Hoshangabad, and Harda and they are moving westward now.
In Uttar Pradesh, Jhansi, Agra, and Gautam Budhh Nagar have reported locust sightings. The state government has projected that the pests could affect crops in as many as 17 districts, including Jhansi, Agra, Mathura, Bulandshahr, Aligarh, Hathras, Firozabad and Kanpur. In Jhansi, the attack is so severe that people are not being able to step out of their homes. Although the wheat crop has already been reaped, farmers are afraid the insects would destroy vegetable crops.
In February 2020, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization had raised caution about a locust invasion that could destroy farmlands across southwest Asia, including India.
Now, locust invasions are not new to India, but they usually arrive between July and October, and never in such alarming numbers. Thus, several state governments have already urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to declare the locust attacks a “national calamity”. Desperate farmers have, meanwhile, been trying to scare away the insects by banging metal plates and lighting fires, but they are not proving enough.The current invasion was possibly caused by additional cyclones in the African region, which proved conducive for three generations of breeding, experts opined. Chemicals, pesticides and drones will only provide a temporary solution, until its root cause is addressed — climate change.