In Jaipur with estimations saying crops were affected in more than 3.5 lakh hectares in various districts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, the damage caused by locust attacks in 2019-20 is believed to be one of the worst in India.
Crops of mustard, cumin and wheat have been devastated in the two states, affecting lakhs of farmers. In Rajasthan, the worst-hit districts are Jaislamer, Barmer, Jodhpur, Jalore, Hanumangarh, Ganganagar, Bikaner and Sirohi.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says a swarm of locusts, which contains about 40 million insects, can eat the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people, 20 camels or six elephants.
What is Locust?
The desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) is a short-horned grasshopper. Innocuous when solitary, locusts undergo a behavioural change when their population builds up rapidly. They enter the ‘gregarious phase’ by forming huge swarms that can travel up to 150 km per day, eating up every bit of greenery on their way. These insects feed on a large variety of crops.
All locust-affected countries transmit data about attacks to the FAO, where the information is analysed in conjunction with the weather and habitat data and satellite imagery. The organisation also provides forecasts for locust attacks up to six weeks in advance and issues warnings for each country.
The Government of India deploys teams to control locust swarms, which spray a chemical called organophosphate in small, concentrated doses.
In January 2019, the first locust swarms left to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and south-west Iran, where heavy rains were reported, the FAO said. Between February and June, widespread spring breeding in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran caused the formation of large numbers of locust swarms.
Control operations were less successful in Iran and Yemen and swarms invaded the India-Pakistan border between June and December.
In India, the extended monsoon provided a favourable environment for the locusts to multiply.
“Each locust lays about 150 eggs. In fact, they lay eggs only in moist soil, therefore, when they arrived in India, the locusts multiplied uncontrollably because of the extended monsoon here,” S.L. Godara, director (research) at the Swami Keshwanand Rajasthan Agriculture University in Bikaner told.
He said when the locust department, during control operations, track areas where locusts stayed overnight to discover their eggs. “Once found, the chemical is sprayed over the eggs. The spray cannot be used over crops,” he added.
Godara also claimed that since the attack was larger than usual, the department was not efficiently equipped to handle the crisis. “Previously, such a large attack was reported in 1993. But it was still manageable. After that, it never occurred, which turned the locust department inefficient,” he said.
Officers of locust departments in India and Pakistan meet regularly to share information about locusts and potential danger of invasion.
The FAO’s January 2020 update shows that the invasion may not have been put to rest yet. “A few residual swarms persistent along both sides of [the] India-Pakistan border where control operations are in progress. Adult and swarms were reported to be breeding along parts of the southern coast where heavy rains and flooding occurred earlier this month [January],” the update said.
Godara says locusts usually stay in India until the Kharif season, but this time the swarms haven’t left and are even damaging the Rabi crops.
Recently, the Rajasthan state government announced compensation worth Rs 31 crore for four affected districts – Jaisalmer, Barmer, Jalore and Jodhpur – after conducting a special assessment of losses.
Haroshit Tandon, admin
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