BY Varuni Trivedi
Swarms of locusts have flown into India from Pakistan entering Rajasthan last month, affecting several districts. They have further spread to other western and northwestern states of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, and Punjab after heavy infestation in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Haryana. These swarms are damaging crops and agricultural livelihoods in what seems like the worst attack in three decades. After causing widespread damage in Pakistan they ave headed towards Indian states.
The Indian economy which was already in a pitiful state and was plagued by an economic slowdown, due to Covid-19 and subsequent lockdown is now under the threat of a severe agrarian crisis at the hands of these flying pests. Agricultural expert Devinder Sharma tried to explain what has led to this sudden locust attack on India, “Climate change is facilitating breeding and movement of locusts. Untimely rains and increased cyclonic activity have helped them breed faster. A locust attack never occurred in December but there was one in 2019,” he said.
According to the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, The Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare has actively stepped up locust control operations in the affected states of Rajasthan, Punjab, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh.
What are locusts?
Locusts look like ordinary grasshoppers and are considered the most destructive migratory pests in the world. These insects travel in enormous swarms that can travel up to 150 kilometers in a day depending on the wind speed. They devour on leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, bark, and growing points basically devastating any crops that come on their way. They leave behind a trail of destruction by causing serious agricultural damage in their wake. Locusts can lead to famine and starvation as their sheer weight the massive numbers that travel dooms crops.
The desert locust threatens one-fifth of Earth’s land area and one-tenth of the global population, they are responsible for a lot of economic destruction. Essentially they are found in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, inhabiting an area of about six million square miles. On average a small swarm of the desert locust eats as much food in one day as about 10 elephants, 25 camels, or 2,500 people.
Locusts as a symbol of doom since ages
Since the biblical time’s locusts have been considered a bad omen that brings devastation and plague. “The locusts will cover the face of the ground so that it cannot be seen. They will devour what little you have left after the hail, including every tree that is growing in your fields,” said a vengeful god of The Old Testament as he cursed the Egyptians. This gives a fair idea of the association of locusts with destruction and doom.
Producer of BBC’s famous documentary show ‘Earth’ said, “The locusts don’t hit you or fly into you, instead they part like a stream around a rock, flying within a few inches of you.” “Also, the sound made by so many billions of wings all beating in unison is incredible, like a deep roar of a waterfall, but almost on the edge of hearing,” he further added.
These dreaded creatures are known for the wide-spread destruction, hunger, poverty, and economic crisis that they bring along when their enormous swarms fly into any nation.
How is India fighting the Locust Attack?
Locust attacks in India since 1993 have been localized to Rajasthan, however this time, favorable weather conditions have led them to travel from Rajasthan to Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and even Maharashtra.
According to the Agriculture Ministry, locust containment measures and sprinkling operations are being conducted in 303 locations spread across more than 47,000 hectares till Wednesday. It is happening in 20 districts of Rajasthan, nine in Madhya Pradesh, two in Gujarat, and one each in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. Around 200 Locust Circle Offices (LCO) are conducting survey and control operations in close coordination with the district administration and agriculture field machinery of the affected states.
The government claims that locust control operations are in full swing in coordination with the state agriculture departments and local administration. As of now, 89 fire brigades for pesticide spray, 120 survey vehicles, 47 control vehicles fitted with spray equipment and 810 tractors with sprayers have been deployed for actively controlling the locust situation. Across many areas, drones will be deployed for tracing and eliminating swarms.
Several states have resorted to their own strategies in dealing with the locust threat. Delhi and Chhatisgarh are on high alert for locust attacks and are taking preventive measures by the use of pesticides. Among other measures, controlled spraying of insecticide on locusts’ night resting places like trees would also be deployed.
This devastating locust attack that has surrounded India while the nation struggles to deal with the pandemic could lead to a lack of food grains and vegetables drowning the nation into fresh economic trouble. If not dealt with timely and effectively an agrarian crisis due to locust attack will further throw the government into grave problems.