HYDERABAD: As the locusts cut a swathe through the agricultural fields and pastures in Sindh, farmers have taken to protests in many districts decrying the government’s alleged indifference. The growers protested in Mirpurkhas, Khairpur, Tharparkar and Sanghar districts on Monday to vent their anger on both the federal and provincial governments.
The locust invasion in Sindh started in May this year, after a long interlude of almost three decades. “Swarms of desert locusts are devouring our crops but the government has left us in the lurch,” deplored Ghulam Rasool Behan, who was among the protesters outside Sanghar Press Club. “The government always tends to wait before taking action until the locusts cause irreparable losses in an area.” Abdullah Unar, another farmer, called for pesticide spray on urgent basis to protect their crops from further damage.
Whose job is it?
The provincial government’s role is limited to providing coordination. The central responsibility for dealing with this situation lies with the Department of Plant Protection (DPP) of the federal ministry of national food security and research. It mostly carries out aerial sprays for the insect’s control.
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The DPP is responsible for conducting the survey and control operations in Pakistan. The surveys are supposed to be carried out regularly in summer and spring breeding areas from June to November and February to May, respectively. During the summer, a monthly meeting is held between Pakistan and India to exchange information on the locust situation. Similar coordination also exists with Iran.
Farmers claim hefty losses
“After many years of complete or partial drought, Tharparkar saw vegetation. But locusts have devastated the desert crops and pastures in a large number of villages,” bemoaned Jam Wazir, a village resident of Nangarparkar, Tharparkar.
The farmers in Khairpur district, which was among the first districts where locusts arrived from Balochistan en route from Iran, claimed that crops on thousands of acres of land in the barrage and riverine areas have been destroyed. According to Shahnawaz Channa, a local farmer told that locusts have been eating the crops including wheat, sugarcane, lemon, banana and mango orchards and pastures and crops grown for grazing and fodder of livestock animals.
“The farmers have sustained a financial loss of tens of millions of rupees in Khairpur. But the government is neither conducting spray to kill locusts nor a survey to assess the losses,” said Imdad Otho. The farmers warned that if the government does not act without wasting further time, large parts of Sindh will witness drought next year.
The protesting farmers in Mirpurkhas blocked a road connecting the district with Sanghar by burning tyres and staging a sit-in protest. They claimed that crops like wheat, tomato and other vegetables worth millions of rupees have been destroyed but the administration remained invisible.
At a recent meeting in Sukkur, Commissioner Shafiq Ahmed Mahesar expressed dissatisfaction over the ongoing operation to control locusts. He formed assistant commissioners headed teams at taluka level to supervise the operations being carried out by the officials of the Sindh Agriculture Department. “There is no time for argument or blame game. We ought to take action on war footings instead of waiting for the DPP’s planes for the spray.”
He, however, said the local farmers will have to cooperate with the government to get rid of the menace, asking the farmers to spray their fields themselves after taking guidelines from the government. “The eggs laid by the locusts in the desert regions can become a greater threat,” he warned.
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According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the locusts have attacked several countries. The organisation considers Pakistan an important front-line country for desert locusts because it offered the summer and spring breeding areas.
CM asks Centre for resources
Meanwhile, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah called Federal Minister for National Food Security and Research Khusro Bakhtiar on Monday and asked him to provide aircraft of the DPP to spray pesticides in the areas affected by locust attacks. Shah said that to meet the shortage of medicines and pilots due to the lack of funds in the relevant department, the government was also releasing funds of Rs10 million to ensure elimination of locusts. Heading a meeting of the agriculture department, he issued directives to conduct a survey of the areas affected by the infestation and to assess the damage. He apprised Bakhtiar of the destruction of crops in Sindh. “We want immediate elimination of locusts by spraying pesticides through planes in the affected areas,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 3rd, 2019.