Home / News / India /  Locusts pose threat to upcoming kharif season

NEW DELHI : Over the past month, visuals of locust swarms invading cities in Rajasthan and travelling as far as Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh have unnerved many. While locust incursions are common for border states like Rajasthan and Gujarat between the months of July and October, this year was unusual for the early arrival of the desert locusts which migrated from Pakistan.

In 2019, over 150 swarms of desert locusts were recorded; so far this year, about 25 swarms have been observed. Since April, nearly 54,000 hectares of land in six states—Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Maharashtra—have been treated with insecticides to control the pest. And this is even before normal locust arrivals begin in June-July.

Should Indian farmers be worried about their kharif crop, planting for which is going to begin shortly? Some locust swarms now moving in border districts of Rajasthan are as vast as 6-km-long and 2-km-wide; they can travel up to 150km a day in search of food.

According to a forecast issued by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on 27 May, “Several successive waves of invasions can be expected (in India) until July in Rajasthan with eastward surges across northern India as far as Bihar and Odisha followed by westward movements and a return to Rajasthan on the changing winds associated with the monsoon."

FAO has forecast that between 22 June and 19 July, locust swarms will travel to India directly from their spring breeding habitats in East Africa (Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya), West Asia (Oman, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran), Afghanistan and Pakistan. Summer breeding along the India-Pakistan border is an added threat.

With effective control in India’s border states, locust swarms are unlikely to pose a grave threat to the rain-fed kharif crop season, and therefore unlikely to jeopardize foodgrain production. But farmers in states like Rajasthan, Gujarat and parts of Punjab may pay a heavy price due to localized losses.

“The unusual invasion in April-May proved that we were underprepared due to which swarms reached up to Jhansi in UP and beyond," said Ajay Vir Jakhar, chairman of Bharat Krishak Samaj, who farms in an area close to the international border with Pakistan—in Punjab’s Abohar district.

Scientists in the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), however, are confident that desert locusts will not have any significant impact in the coming months. “In April and May, locusts arrived following conducive spring rains in east Africa, Baluchistan and Iran (which aided breeding). The swarms moved beyond India’s border areas in search of food aided by westerly winds. That is unlikely to happen in June and July," said S. N. Sushil, entomologist and former plant protection advisor at the agriculture ministry.

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