Surging locust attacks pose great threat to food security

Iran to use military to fight hopper bands

Agencies May 17, 2020

While the government and the urban population are struggling against the speedily spreading Covid-19, farmers in Pakistan’s main food-producing pockets have been haunted by a plague of locust swarms which are sweeping green fields with their devastating instinct to eat heavily.

Locust swarms triggered panic among villagers in Punjab as their crop was fine one evening but a lot of leaves had been eaten up a day later. They fear that if the situation prevails it would finish all cash crops, animals’ fodders and fruits like it did with wheat crop in Sindh.

The desert locust plague affected Pakistan’s southern Sindh province last year before moving to the rest parts of the country. The Ministry of National Food Security and Plant Protection and other departments all came up with a response to the fly attacks.

Assistant Director of Agriculture Pest Warning in Chakwal district Muhammad Riaz told Xinhua that the swarm, scattered in two groups, had affected around 400 acres crops in less than 48 hours, posing a big threat to crops in the area.

According to the food security ministry, the locusts has imposed a loss of 15% to the winter-sown crops last year amounting to at least Rs100 billion, with fears that the damage would be huge if the next generation hatched.

The report added that the locust attacks could cause Rs817 billion loss to the country’s agriculture production in 2020. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates agricultural losses to Pakistan from locusts could be as high as $2.2 billion for winter crops alone.

Earlier in January, the government imposed a national emergency on locust control. This week, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said the department has planned to spray 500,000-hector land because the numbers of locusts are increasing earlier and speedily.

The FAO said in its latest update that adult groups were migrating to the Indian border from breeding areas in Balochistan and the Indus Valley where hopper groups had been present as well as in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

It added the situation was also threatening in Iran where hopper bands are maturing along the southwestern coastal plains and another generation of breeding was underway on the coast near Jask and in the interior of Sistan-Balochistan province, which borders Pakistan.

In India, more adult groups and small swarms arrived from Pakistan in the past few days and moved east into Rajasthan, reaching Jodhpur. Some swarms could continue further east. Control operations are underway in all three countries.

The Iranian media quoted an agricultural ministry official as saying that Tehran might use the military for a second year to help fight locusts in the south of the country, as the swarms threaten to destroy crops worth more than $7 billion.

Mohammad Reza Mir, a spokesman for the ministry’s Plant Protection Organisation (PPO), said this week that the desert locusts had attacked more than 494,000 acres of orchards and farmland in seven of Iran’s 31 provinces, the semi-official news agency ILNA reported.

The affected areas, stretching from eastern Iran on the border with Pakistan to the southwestern border with Iraq, were likely to soon increase to 1 million hectares, Mir told ILNA. “The military have promised to help fight the desert locusts, including by providing all-terrain vehicles for use in areas which are hard to access,” Mir told ILNA.

PPO’s head, Mohammad Reza Dargahi, said last month that locust swarms threatened 1,250 trillion rials ($7.4 billion) worth of agricultural products across six provinces in southern Iran, the daily Financial Tribune reported.



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