The Locust Attack in India - Why is it more alarming than the Coronavirus ?

The Locust attack in India started last week in May and is continuing. While most of the people are ignoring the gravity of this attack, already serving pawns to a pandemic, here’s why it can be more devastating that can only add to this pandemic. The locust attack took its flight from the horn of Africa from countries like Somalia, Kenya.

Earlier, when the locusts were in Africa, FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation), a UN Body, released some videos showing how menacing these attacks can be and also showed a video of how these locusts devastated the agriculture in Ethiopia.

The locusts are tropical Grasshoppers with an amazing ability to fly longer distances and form a swarm. As per reports, these swarms can contain hundreds of billions of locusts. As per FAO reports, they can cover a distance up to 5KM to 130KM in a day. They also have an amazing ability to reproduce and can exponentially increase the size of their swarm. The Desert Locust is one of about a dozen species of short-horned grasshoppers (Acridoidea) that are known to change their behaviour and form swarms of adults or bands of hoppers (wingless nymphs). (FAO Website)  They drastically change their behaviour when they are in swarms and attack various agricultural fields to eat and keep themselves alive.

The locust attack in India has been very devastating in the states of Rajasthan, Punjab, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Several alerts were issued to the authorities and organisations in other states of central India, primarily working for the welfare of the farmers. The current climate with high-speed winds and rainfall are only adding to the human disadvantage in these devastating times. It is being expected that around 10 swarms with each containing more than 80 million locusts are currently attacking the farms and more might come in future from Pakistan. The reproduction rates of these locusts will only add to our problems.

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In Tamil Nadu, Farmers in Poovankodu and Viyanur in Kanyakumari district bordering Kerala have claimed that the “locust” has ravaged the banana and rubber crops to a large extent. Various districts in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh where the mango plantations have been badly affected due to the locust attack. According to the Indian Council of Agricultural Research Director, Trilocahan Mohapatra, the insects have affected almost 40,000 hectares of farmlands, but there is no news of any effect on the Rabi crops like wheat, pulses and oilseeds as they were harvested by now.

The latest swarm in June was spotted in Datia district of Madhya Pradesh. Just a couple of days ago, the Jhansi administration has also deployed fire brigades with the insecticides filled in the tank to fight the locusts. As per several reports, more than 125,000 acres of farmland have been destroyed in these locusts attacks in India. And this attack has come at a time when the nation is already battling the pandemic crisis, which is getting more and more vicious with every day passing.

At times when people are dying of hunger on trains, this locust attack in India is only bringing the doomsday closer to humankind. The challenge of food security in India, in the coming months, might overwhelm the available stocks and will have to look for other options to keep the food security in check. This locust attack in India can also bring a steep rise in the farmers’ suicide, which has been a hot topic in Indian politics, especially during the election season.

The locust attack in India
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Some reports claimed that Pakistan and North India can be the new breeding ground for these locusts and they must be killed during the breeding time to save from the ongoing civilisational crisis. The suggested way to stop them is spraying pesticides when they are resting, otherwise, they are nearly unstoppable while moving.

When a locusts’ attack was happening in Pakistan, Pakistani authorities with the help of China thought of implementing the biological predator method. They introduced the Chinese duck army to eat the locusts, although it was not enough to control them as these locusts migrate from one place to another and are in hundreds of millions and this time in hundreds of billions in number. According to some experts, reported by Chinese state media CGTN, one duck can eat almost 200 locusts a day, which is not enough to contain this swarm but can significantly save the amount of destruction they can do.

In 2000, China controlled a locust attack in Xinjiang province using the same method, but the intensity of the attack was exponentially low. Later, experts that visited Pakistan said that the natural predator technique would not work as it did in China, as they have a very high temperature in the affected areas and the water is scarce and ducks like to live around water.
 
As per the FAO, the loss to Pakistan will be around $6 billion, which is again a huge blow to the Pakistan Economy. The estimated loss due to the locust attack in India will be massive for the farmers. It remains to be seen how massive a damage locusts attack in India will do in terms of economics. The latest country to be hit by locusts is Sri Lanka, where in Francisco Estate in Mawathagama, Kurunegala in the North West of Sri Lanka has been intensely affected where hundreds of maize, plantain, guava, and mango cultivations fell victims to swarms of locusts.
 
A Desert locust lives a total of about three to five months, although this is extremely variable and depends mostly on weather and ecological conditions which are less than the average lifespan of a locust but their ability to reproduce makes them more dangerous. As per FAO reports, female Desert Locusts lay eggs in an egg pod primarily in sandy soils at a depth of 10-15 centimetres below the surface. A solitary female lays about 95-158 eggs, whereas a gregarious female lays usually less than 80 eggs in an egg pod. Females can lay at least three times in their lifetime, usually at intervals of  about 6-11 days. Up to 1,000 egg pods have been found in one square metre.

These locusts can eat almost the same amount of food as their body weight, which is roughly 2 grams and a small swarm of adult locusts can eat the amount of food which can be enough for 2500 humans, according to the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida and Department of Agriculture, Cooperative & Farmers Welfare, Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, Government of India.

In the FAQ section of the Department of Agriculture, Cooperative & Farmers Welfare, Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, Government of India, it says that even satellites including the highly sophisticated military satellites cannot detect these locust swarms.

At present, the primary method of controlling desert locust swarms and hopper bands is with mainly organophosphate chemicals applied in small concentrated doses (referred to as ultra-low volume (ULV) formulation) by vehicle-mounted and aerial sprayers and to a lesser extent by a knapsack and handheld sprayers.

The culprit here again is climate change. Higher rainfall in the area of Arabian Peninsula due to various cyclones changed the climate and made it very favourable for the breeding of the desert locusts. The locust attack in India is mainly due to the unexpected high rainfall in the Thar Desert area which makes it a very favourable ground for the breeding of the desert locusts.

During the plagues, desert locusts may spread over an enormous area of some 29 million square kilometres, extending over or into parts of 60 countries. This is more than 20% of the total land surface of the world. The desert locust also has the potential to damage the livelihood of a tenth of the world’s population, during the plagues.

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The only way to stop the foreseen damage will be to kill the little demons while they are breeding using various insecticides recommended by the Government of India. Even the local farmers will have to remain vigilant during these breeding times and use the government suggested measures and insecticides to kill these locusts.

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