The locust plague

Published June 24, 2019
The inhabitants of Thar Desert in Sindh and Choolistan in Punjab are praying for good monsoon rains.
The inhabitants of Thar Desert in Sindh and Choolistan in Punjab are praying for good monsoon rains.

The inhabitants of Thar Desert in Sindh and Choolistan in Punjab are praying for good monsoon rains as it will allow green vegetation to grown and sweet water for their animals. Unfortunately, such prayers may boomerang as it may result in a natural disaster in the form of a locust outbreak.

Locusts are short horned grass hoppers. Desert locusts of Africa and Asia are normally solitary, but spring rains trigger a behavioural transformation that can results in a swarms of locust. A single swarm ranges from 100,000 to 1 billion locusts.

Hindustan Times reported a locust outbreak in Rajasthan after 26 years on May 29, 2019. According to the news story, millions of locusts have attacked vegetation in the Jaisalmer district after migrating from bordering Pakistan.

This year, widespread heavy rainfall during March and April in Balochistan’s locust breeding areas created ideal ecological conditions for the proliferation of locusts. As per the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Desert Locust situation update of May 14, 2019, second generation of locusts are expected to cause an increase in the spring breeding areas in Saudi Arabia and Iran owing to prevalent ecological conditions. Locust breeding and outbreak has also been reported from Kuwait, Jordan and Yemen.

Balochistan has witnessed small-scale breeding of locusts but the Locust Control Division of the Department of Plant Protection (DPP), working under the Federal Ministry of National Food Security and Research, did not bother to undertake a regular survey.

This lapse allowed the second generation of hoppers to mature by the end of May and start migrating from its spring breeding areas to the summer breeding areas of Thar desert.

Inadequate rains in the desert for the last few years have rendered the desert devoid of green vegetation. The dry soil did not provide suitable conditions for locusts to lay eggs. Therefore the migrating locusts may not pose any serious threat of locust outbreak in the Thar Desert except low scale damage to standing crops like guar, maize, sugar cane, cotton etc in the areas adjacent to the desert in the upper Sindh region.

However, DPP has a different story to tell.

According to DPP, a few locust swarms migrated from Iran to Balochistan undetected in March 2019 where the ecological conditions were conducive due to rainfall. Therefore, DPP’s relevant control team immediately went to affected areas and started operations through which an area of 22,450 acres has been successfully controlled.

However, the extent of locusts migrating to Nara Desert and Choolistan Desert, as well as Rajasthan Desert in India, disproves DPP’s claims of success.

The DPP is also carrying out operations in Thari Mirwah of District Khairpur. Till June 19, 5,930 acres of affected area had been treated with pesticides. On June 16, the Federal Minister of National Food Security and Research Sahibzada Muhammad Mehboob Sultan visited Nara Desert and expressed his satisfaction on the ongoing control campaign.

However, the current strategy of operating a spray aircraft from Sukkur airport, 70km away from the target area at about 10am, is a waste of public money. Spraying of pesticides should be undertaken at dawn, using the abandoned air strip adjacent to Chundiko Town of Nara Desert. This strip was used by the DPP during the 1993 anti-locust campaign to contain the menace effectively.

The writer is an ex-entomologist, Department of Plant Protection and President Agriwatch Society of Pakistan

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, June 24th, 2019

Opinion

Diverging paths
Updated 15 Apr 2021

Diverging paths

It seems that Imran Khan is feeling the pain of the adjustment that he has had to undertake.
Judging the judges
15 Apr 2021

Judging the judges

In the end, like Joan of Arc, they were made to pay with their blood.
People to people
Updated 15 Apr 2021

People to people

By facilitating access, the governments of India and Pakistan can start to build trust and understanding between the two publics.
Hostage to extremism
Updated 14 Apr 2021

Hostage to extremism

Once again, the TLP has succeeded in bringing the administration to its knees.

Editorial

Afghanistan exit
Updated 15 Apr 2021

Afghanistan exit

Afghanistan has suffered for decades as powerful local players have refused to compromise and have insisted on hogging power.
15 Apr 2021

New census

EARLIER this week, the Council of Common Interests approved the controversial National Population and Housing ...
15 Apr 2021

With no place to go

No matter where one looks, one can’t escape the heartrending sight of scores of children of all ages begging, ...
TLP protests
Updated 14 Apr 2021

TLP protests

For the good of the country, and its image as a nation where extremism has no place, such groups must be strictly reined in.
14 Apr 2021

PPP’s formal exit

THE PPP’s formal resignation from all offices of the PDM comes as no surprise after weeks of tension and public...
14 Apr 2021

Natanz attack

AS the P5+1 and Iran try to breathe life back into the JCPOA, as the nuclear deal is officially known, it appears...