Locust Attacks in India Destroy Crops On Large Scale

  • In recent weeks, swarms of desert locusts have invaded various parts of India.
  • According to officials, this is the first large-scale locust attack in India since 1993.
  • Locust swarms typically travel 150 kilometers a day.

Officials in India say many locations in India and Pakistan are under locust attacks, and locusts entering India from there are destroying crops. At a time when the Coronavirus epidemic has hit India’s economy hard, and the poor are struggling for their lives, locust swarms in India pose another threat to crops.

Locusts are a collection of certain species of short-horned grasshoppers in the family Acrididae that have a swarming phase. These insects are usually solitary, but under certain circumstances they become more abundant and change their behaviour and habits, becoming gregarious.

In recent weeks, swarms of desert locusts have invaded various parts of India. Authorities have deployed drones to monitor them, and have ordered spraying of pesticides in many places to prevent them.

“Swarms of locusts are entering Rajasthan from adjoining areas in [Pakistan] every 2-3 days since a month,” said said BR Kadwa, deputy director of the agriculture department. “Pakistan has become the new breeding ground of the locusts and hence we are seeing the repeated attacks of locusts in the state. Four swarms have entered Jaipur recently,” he added. Kadwa said that the good news is that the Rabi crop has been harvested, otherwise the damage would have been huge.

According to officials, this is the first large-scale locust attack in India since 1993. About eight to ten large locust swarms are active in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, KL Gerger, a leading locust watchdog in India, told AFP. The locusts have reached the states of Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, and could attack Delhi as well.

“This time the attack is by very young locusts who fly for longer distances, at faster speeds, unlike adults in the past who were sluggish and not so fast,” said K.L. Gurjar, the deputy director of India’s Locust Warning Organization.

The World Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says locusts have badly affected a large part of the current crop in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, and are likely to lead to a significant drop in production.

Experts say the country’s economy is on the brink of collapse due to the coronavirus lockdown, and if agricultural production in India is affected, the government’s efforts to deal with the coronavirus crisis could be severely hampered.

A biological pesticide to control locusts was tested across Africa by a multinational team in 1997. This approach to locust control was used in Tanzania in 2009 to treat around 10,000 hectares in the Iku-Katavi National Park infested with adult locusts.

Adult desert locust swarms can fly up to 150 kilometers a day with the wind. A single square kilometer swarm can eat as much food in a day as 35,000 people. Adult insects can consume roughly their own weight in fresh food per day, and eat mostly green leaves, flowers, plant stalks, fruits and seeds.

However, their main targets are millets, paddy, maize, sugarcane, barley, cotton buds, dates, vegetables, grass, acacia, pine, and bananas. Desert locusts are also found alone, but change their behavior from acting as individuals to becoming part of a group. When the groups are ready, they move together in droves.

Many times, their flocks are quite dense, and spread for several kilometers, including eight to ten million locusts. These desert locusts were first found in the Horn of Africa, but Indian experts say desert locusts are now growing rapidly in Pakistan’s Balochistan and parts of Iran.

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Benedict Kasigara

I have been working as a freelance editor/writer since 2006. My specialist subject is film and television having worked for over 10 years from 2005 during which time I was the editor of the BFI Film and Television.

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