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LOCUSTS feast on trees in Dasht.
LOCUSTS feast on trees in Dasht.

KARACHI: After a swarm of locusts affected Balochistan, they have now taken over parts of Khairpur district in Sindh, it emerged on Wednesday, as the federal food security ministry’s department of plant protection initiated measures in both provinces to contain the locust outbreak.

Farmers, however, expressed their dissatisfaction with governmental efforts.

According to sources, parts of Khairpur district infested with locusts include Thari Mirwah, Bair Waro and Khabbar Waro. And at least 25 towns and villages in Gwadar, Lasbela, Chagai and Kech districts of Balochistan province have been severely affected by locusts, which have destroyed large-scale vegetation in these areas.

The Ministry of National Food Security and Research’s Department of Plant Protection (DPP) asserted that it had carried out “treatment” operation in all affected areas but said it was a challenge to contain the locusts since the current environmental conditions were such that it was conducive for its reproduction.

“So far, an area of 5,020 hectares has been successfully treated in Balochistan,” said Mohammad Tariq Khan, director (technical) at DPP.

Farmers unhappy over governmental efforts to contain the threat

The process is continuing since “it’s a migratory species”, he added.

The department would be carrying out aerial insecticide spraying soon for which test flights had been carried out in Karachi from where aircraft would now be moved to Quetta and then to affected areas, Mr Khan told Dawn.

However, sources say security threats, bureaucratic hurdles including delays in getting permission from security agencies are hampering treatment operations.

Farmers devastated

Farmers in Dasht, part of Balochistan’s Kharan district, expressed their dissatisfaction over governmental efforts given the large-scale devastation caused by locusts known as ‘Madag’ in local parlance. They said the locust-infested areas required aerial insecticide spray.

Locusts collected by a villager in a bucket.
Locusts collected by a villager in a bucket.

“It’s an agricultural area now ruined by locusts, causing huge losses to farmers,” Jameel Ahmed, a farmer in Dasht, said while speaking to Dawn over the phone.

Only a small area was treated by insecticide by government officials sometime back, he claimed.

Frustration levels are high in the town given the fact that the locust attack has followed two spells of rainfall which had ended the drought period of seven years in the area.

According to farmers, most of whom grow dates, cotton, lentils and fodder crops, the locust invasion occurred in their area two months back and the infestation has continued.

No one had ever observed such a phenomenon in recent decades, they said, though some elders of the area said that such a locust attack last occurred in the 1960s or 1970s.

The farmers opined the government was using “security threat” as an excuse for their lack of performance in remote areas.

“Their [locusts] number has multiplied enormously destroying all big and small orchards and agricultural fields. But, the government seems least bothered,” said Nazimuddin, another farmer.

The desert locust is potentially the most dangerous of the locust pests because of the ability of swarms to fly rapidly across great distances, according to experts.

The locusts first affected Yemen from where they migrated early this year to Saudi Arabia and onwards to Iran.

“In Iran, ecological conditions were favourable for locust breeding. Vegetation was green and the soil was moist due to heavy rainfall. Mature locusts laid eggs and their numbers rapidly grew due to which the Iranian government immediately launched a campaign and has so far treated approximately 350,000 hectares area,” explained Mr Khan of the DPP.

He hoped the pest would vanish in Balochistan by end of June as their winter-spring breeding season would end and vegetation and soil moisture would dry out. But then they would move on to another new area where they would breed again, he warned.

Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2019