Amid a nationwide Coronavirus Pandemic induced lockdown, a massive strike by locusts threatens crops in western and northern India. India is experiencing the worst locusts attack in 30 years. Over the last few days, swarms of desert locust have reached the urban areas of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. They invaded India via Pakistan, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. In December 2019, when the parts of Gujarat were invaded by locust, they had destroyed crops spread over 25,000 hectares of land. This time, the attack is additionally widespread. Locust swarms entered India from Pakistan where they flew in from Iran last year. From Rajasthan, locusts entered Madhya Pradesh via Neemuch and have advanced to Ujjain and Dewas. The locust swarms have also made their way to Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. Due to the proximity with Pakistan as well as the rest of the affected areas, Punjab has also put its farmers on alert. In Rajasthan, locust attack has reached residential colonies of Jaipur. Unable to find crops to feed on, the locusts have started destroying trees.

Locust Swarms are insects that travel in large swarms. Depending upon the wind speed, they can travel up to 150 kilometers in a day. They can destroy crops and cause major agricultural damage, which can lead to famine and starvation. Locusts devour leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, bark and growing points, and conjointly destroy plants by their sheer weight as they descend on them in huge numbers. A small swarm of the desert locust eats on a mean the maximum amount of food in the future as regarding ten elephants, 25 camels, or 2,500 people. But swarms don’t seem to be continually tiny. In 1875, the North American nation reported a swarm calculable to be 1,98,000 sq. miles or 5,12,817 sq. kilometers in size. Delhi-NCR is just 1500 sq. kilometers, for comparison. A swarm, the dimensions of Delhi could consume an identical quantity of food in the future as each denizen in Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh in the future.

Several Indian media rumored that regarding 123,500 acres of cropland had already been destroyed in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh states. The crop harm comes as several farmers were already fighting the impact of India’s two months long coronavirus lockdown, that left them mostly while not the employees to tend to their crops. The double crisis may create a significant threat to India’s food security within the coming months.

As per the UN agency, the locust infestation is probably going to induce severe by next month. The desert locust invasion is anticipated to maneuver from Africa to India and Pakistan next month and could be accompanied by other swarms.

Why Desert Locusts in Non-Desert Lands?

Desert Locusts(Schistocerca gregaria), which belong to the family of grasshoppers normally, live and breed in semi-arid or desert regions. For laying eggs, they require bare ground, which is rarely found in areas with dense vegetation. So, they can breed in Rajasthan but not in the Indo-Gangetic plains or the Godavari or Cauvery delta. But green vegetation is required for hopper development. Hopper is the stage between a nymph that is hatched from the egg and the winged adult moth. Such cover isn’t widespread enough in the deserts to allow the growth of a large population of locusts.

The large scale breeding and swarm formation are due to favorable conditions i.e. desert and semi-arid regions. The outbreak started after warm waters in the western Indian Ocean in late 2019 fueled heavy amounts of rains over East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Heavy rain triggers the growth of vegetation in arid areas where desert locusts can then grow and breed. The large scale movement of the swarm is also because of the strong westerly winds from cyclone Amphan in the Bay of Bengal.

Locust attacks are not new

Although 2020 seems to be the worst year and full of catastrophes, these locust attacks are not new. It has been mentioned in all ancient texts like the Bible, Koran, etc. The  trouble that stricken pharaohs, King Ashoka, and King Solomon remain a menace in today’s age, Within recorded history numerous locust plagues upsurges since 1812.

What damage have they caused?

According to the officials, 43 districts of five states have been severally affected by the attack of locust swarms in May 2020. This includes 23 districts of Rajasthan, 16 of Madhya Pradesh, Banaskantha and Kutch in Gujarat, Fazilka in Punjab, and Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh.

Up until now, not much damage has been caused by the Locust Swarms, since the rabi crop has already been harvested. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has predicted that there will be several successive waves of invasions until July in Rajasthan and then across northern India right up to Bihar and Odisha. After July, due to Southwest Monsoon winds, they would return to Rajasthan.

The danger is once they start breeding. One gregarious female locust can lay 60-80 eggs 3 times during its average life cycle of 90 days. If their breeding is coterminous thereupon of the Kharif crop, we could well have a situation like what maize, sorghum, and wheat farmers of Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia experienced in March-April.

How can these pests be controlled?

Locust Swarms can be controlled by spraying of organophosphate pesticides on the night resting places of the Locusts. The Indian Institute of Sugarcane Research, Lucknow has advised farmers to spray chemicals like lambda-cyhalothrin, deltamethrin, fipronil, chlorpyriphos, or malathion to control the swarms. Government advised people to make a loud noise so that instead of settling they keep flying.

India’s agriculture ministry is hoping to regulate the invasion before monsoon season hits north India at the tip of June when locusts mature and breed. If the infestation isn’t controlled, it should threaten summer crops like rice, maize, and sorghum.

Ayushi Verma – I am a first-year student currently pursuing Law from Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow.


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