Senate panel calls for urgent steps to ward off locust attack

Standing Committee on Food Security seeks release of funds to cope with ‘national disaster’

Haseeb Hanif January 16, 2020
PHOTO: EXPRESS/FILE

ISLAMABAD: The Senate Standing Committee on Food Security and Research on Thursday declared the locust attack in various parts of the country a “national disaster” and recommended to the government to take steps on emergency basis to cope with the situation.

The committee met here with its chairman Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah in the chair, to discuss the locust attack and other issues facing the growers. The meeting was attended by senators Seemee Ezdi, Najma Hameed, Hafiz Abdul Karim, Fida Muhammad, Sajjad Hussain Turi.

Others attending the deliberation included Hashim Popalzai, Secretary, Food Security and Research, the president of the Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL), Vice President of the Pakistan Central Cotton Committee and others.

The meeting received briefing from Popalzai on the locust attack, which was first witnessed in southern Balochistan in March 2019 and then in Sindh by the end of May. Earlier, this month, a spray plane crashed in the Cholistan desert.

Briefing the committee, Popalzai painted a grim picture of the fight against the catastrophe. He told the senators that his department lacked the anti-locust pesticides as well as proper equipment to deal with the situation. "Even the planes for spray are 50 year-old," he said.

According to Popalzai, the locust attack in the country happened after 25 years and it had engulfed all the provinces. "It’s a severe attack, and it's not receding," he told the committee members, adding that the locust would persist in the country for two more years.

Muzaffar Shah expressed anger over the situation and the apathy of the relevant officials. "Crops have been destroyed but nobody ever thought of controlling locust," he said. He also took exception to a provincial minister’s remarks, who suggested for eating “locust Biryani."

Popalzai lamented the impediments in procuring funds. "We borrowed funds to purchase pesticides. We have to payback that amount," he said. "We had sought a grant of Rs490 million but only 100 million were received. We had requested the Chinese ambassador for provision of six spray planes."

Dilating on the counter-measures, Popalzai said that his department had informed the Sindh chief secretary in July that locust would be contained in the desert. However, Shah observed that the food department had completely failed to control the locust.

"There was no forewarning to the growers. “Had there been any prior information about the attack, crop losses could have been prevented,” he said. The plant protection department says the anti-locust national action plan is prepared but still there's no assessment of the crop losses," he added.

The committee declared that locust attack a "national disaster" and recommended to the Centre to release funds to counter it. “The federal government must take measures on emergency basis for the provision of spray planes,” it said.

The committee also discussed increase in the interest rate on the agricultural loans by the ZTBL. The bank president informed the committee that 13% interest rate was being charged, which is lower than the 18% by other banks. The bank still faces Rs7-8 billion deficit,” he added.

The committee chairman noted that the cost of agricultural inputs has risen. He directed that interest rate in the agricultural loans should be reduced.

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