KARACHI: Sindh Agriculture Minister Ismail Rahu on Tuesday called for planning a massive operation at “regional level” to combat the huge threat of locust attacks on crops and green fields. He said Pakistan and its neighbours in the region should join hands to eliminate locust swarms which were persistently devouring agricultural produce as well as green trees and fodder causing huge losses to the farming community, national exchequer and provincial kitty.

Mr Rahu was speaking to reporters outside the Sindh Assembly building on Tuesday.

Referring to the losses already caused by locusts in Sindh, he regretted that federal government did not take the challenge seriously at the outset; or else the menace would not have a prolific effect in Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab.

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“The federal government should launch an operation in collaboration with other countries of the region,” said the minister, and warned that locusts would inflict colossal losses to the country’s economy if they were not eliminated with such a concerted operation.

Mr Rahu said that the Sindh government was making all-out efforts employing all available means to eliminate the swarms. In this regard, he pointed out that the government had decided to procure a dozen aircraft and as many tractor airplanes from China to carry out anti-locust spray.

He said the federal and Sindh governments had devised a strategy under which the operation was being conducted in three six-month phases — Jan to June 2020, July to Dec 2020, and Jan 2021 to June 2021.

“There are many large districts of Sindh where locust swarms are there. At least 15 of our districts have been affected by locusts; Sindh has so far been the most affected part of the world from this menace,” the minister claimed, adding, “we again appeal to the federal government to take immediate measures to avoid further destruction of our agriculture sector. It’s better late than never.”

Asserting his point on regional level initiative, he said India, United Arab Emirates, Iran and Afghanistan were also faced with locust attacks so a coordinated operation at regional level would help achieve better results compared to isolated drives.

He said a meeting between senior officials of Sindh and federal governments was recently held where the federal authorities praised Sindh government’s effective steps to restrict the destruction to the minimum.

“The federal government has directed other provinces to follow what Sindh has done in this regard,” said the minister.

Mr Rahu said China had agreed to provide the airplanes and related chemicals for spray on the swarms.

He urged the federal government to declare ‘emergency’ for complete elimination of locusts from Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan. It should also take up the matter at some world forum, he said, and warned that the country could face a food crisis if it did not declare emergency on this issue.

He said Sindh had so far used 50,000 litres of chemicals in the aerial spray drive, which was continuing.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2020

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