Locust and grasshoppers are insects belonging to a family called ‘Acrididae’ in the ‘Orthoptera’ order. Locusts are capable to react to high densities. When they are a part of a crowd their behaviour, appearance, physiology and habits change which is generally known as ‘phase change’. During the solitary phase, they behave individually. When there is a change from solitary to a gregarious phase, locusts stop behaving individually and form a group.
In India, the locusts have been a foe of humanity from ancient times. But the most serious outbreaks occurred in 1812, 1821, 1843-44, 1863-67, 1869-73, 1876-81, 1889-98, 1900-1907, 1912-1920. Due to a bad locust plague from 1926-1931, the British started their research into the desert locusts. This subsequently, led to the establishment of a permanent Locust Warning Organization (LWO), with a station in Karachi. After independence, India established its locust warning centre at Jodhpur, Rajasthan, as a part of the Directorate of Plant Protection Quarantine and Storage under the Ministry of Agriculture.
In the recent past, there have been 13 locust plagues between 1964 and 1997. From 1997 to 2010 there were five outbreaks. The biggest infestation was in 2010. The latest infestation was in 2019 in Gujarat and Rajasthan which recorded a loss of nearly 3.5 lakh hectares of land. This year India is gearing up for one of its worst locust outbreak in decades. Outbreaks of the insect attack have been reported from Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
The reason for the latest locust invasion may be attributed to the warming of India Ocean. A phenomenon called the “Indian Ocean Dipole”, in which the western and eastern parts of the ocean warm differentially have bought excessive rains to India and West Asia. A positive dipole is when the western part is hotter by a degree or more than the eastern part. In 2019, India and its neighbours witnessed one of the strongest positive dipoles (a difference of more than two degrees was observed).
Due to this phenomenon, India received a torrential rainfall which was the most it had seen in decades. This also caused droughts in various parts of the country. This rainfall continued in several parts of West Asia, Oman, Yemen and in some parts of Africa which included Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya. The continued rainfall converted dry sand to a moisture-laden, facilitating the formation of several locust swarms. Even though the locusts were growing in Africa in 2018 the Indian Ocean Dipole amplified it. Due to pleasant winds, the swarms were able to fly and breed in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), an agency of the United Nation has been issuing alerts on developing swarms. Due to the locust outbreak in February and April 2020 Somalia and Pakistan have declared a national emergency, respectively. The normal locust season in India which is from June to November coincides with Kharif season of the country, due to which it is essential to control the outbreak or else India will be facing serious agricultural damage.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization locust bulletin of 27th May 2020, adult locusts were forming groups and small swarms were breeding in Baluchistan, Indus Valley and parts of Sistan-Baluchistan. These infestations are expected to enter India from Pakistan. The existing swarms in States of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have been guided by the winds of Cyclone Amphan and are expected to enter Nepal, and Bangladesh by some experts.
A locust attack has to be dealt with by spraying pest control and plant protection chemicals. Indian officials, have blamed Pakistan for not spraying adequate pesticide to stem the nascent population. It has been part of the protocol, for entomologists from India and Pakistan to conduct border meetings and divide pest-control responsibilities. But due to the emergence of COVID-19, these meetings did not take place and the spread of locust could not be stopped. The Government of India has taken actions to contain the spread.
The centre has ordered 60 sprayers from the United Kingdom and allowed the deployment of drones for controlling locust swarms. The central government is coordinating with state governments to restrict locust attacks. More than 200 locust circle offices and temporary camps are engaged in conducting surveys and control operations. Fire brigades for spraying pesticides, survey and control vehicles and tractors mounted with sprayers have been deployed for controlling the situation caused by the locusts.
To overcome the problems caused due to importing equipment, Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare (DAC&FW), under Make in India initiative, has taken up the challenge to indigenous develop a vehicle-mounted ULV sprayer for locust control. Leading the initiative, the Mechanization and Technology Division of DAC&FW got a prototype of the sprayer developed through an Indian Manufacturer. The trails of the sprayer have been successfully conducted in Ajmer and Bikaner district of Rajasthan. This is being regarded as a breakthrough as it is expected to end the dependence of importing equipment essential to control the locusts.
It is indispensable to note the innovative technique used by the Government of Pakistan in fighting the locusts. The innovative project was implemented in Pakistan’s Okara district. It was the brainchild of Muhammad Khurshid, a civil servant in the Ministry of National Food Security and Research and Johar Ali, a biotechnologist from the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council. The innovative project offers a sustainable solution in which farmers earn money by trapping locusts that are later turned into high protein chicken feed by animal feed mills. They used the slogan, “Catch locusts. Earn money. Save crops” to publicize the project.
The project offered to pay farmers Pakistan Rupee (PKR) 20 per kg of locusts. The locusts only travel in daylight. At night, they cluster on trees and open ground without dense vegetation and will remain motionless till sunrise. Which makes it easy for the farmers to catch them. By paying the farmers the project aims to increase their incomes.
To conclude locusts have been a long-standing foe of the humans. When they arrive they leave a devastating agricultural loss which hampers the livelihoods of farmers. The techniques used to control them (like making noise, spraying pesticides) have grown old. So it is imminent for us to innovate new techniques to tackle the locust plague. The idea developed and implemented in the Okara district is a right step into the future.
This blog is written by Kushal, KLE Society’s Law College.
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Virender Sehwag post video about locust attack over his house.