SAHIWAL: As steps are being taken to check the coronavirus spread, the agriculture may face another threat - the hatcheries of locusts in Punjab.

Experts believe that if these hatcheries are not timely destroyed, adult locusts may destroy vast swathes of crops in some districts which may be hit by locusts attack in coming two to three months.

The locusts threat is visible at Sahiwal, Khushab, Bahawalnagar and Rajanpur.

Piple Pahaar - a natural forest covering 7,203 acre land in Depalpur tehsil, Okara, is identified as a major breeding bed where billions of [locusts] eggs have been hatched during the past two to three weeks.

Dawn learnt that after hatching billions of hoppers or nymphs - a wingless tiny pest, are crawling on the bed. Many apprehend that these nymphs have the potential to become a mature locust flyer in coming six to eight weeks. Experts say locusts’ maturity duration from nymph to adult flyer depends on fluctuating weather conditions in coming weeks.

This correspondence talked to agriculture department officials who warn that if proper arrangements are not made to combat nymphs growth, it will convert into a mature flyer after completing its five “instar biological stages”.

Experts say a multitude of mature flyers may destroy crops in May.

Agriculture Deputy Director (Plant Protection) Iqbal Shahid Quershi says swarms of locusts may destroy upcoming crops like cotton, maize, rice, fodder, vegetables in tunnel farming and orchards of mango and other fruits.

Dr. Qureshi says mostly swarms of locusts come from Rajasthan desert - natural breeding ground of pest, and fly into Bahawalpur, Bahwalnagar, Pakpattan, Vehari, Khanewal, Multan, Bhakkar and Layyah districts.

Locusts breed twice a year - in spring and monsoon. Experts say female locusts need desert-like moisture bed to lay eggs’ pods in mud. This is why mature locusts after mating choose Piple Pahar’s muddy land for spring breeding in January and February. Agriculture experts in plant protection and extension department say eggs take 2-3 weeks to hatch into hoppers or nymphs.

Deputy Director Agriculture (Extension) Rana Habib says Piple Pahar is not the only place where hatching is going on in Sahiwal division. The same situation exists at two acres mango orchard at village 133/9-L and eight-acre field at village 61/4-R (Burjwala), Sahiwal. At village 60/D, Pakpattan district, a very low level hatchery has been found on eight acre maize crop of lumberdar Ahmed Yar.

Local agriculture officials apprehend that same kind of minor hatcheries can be found in nearest villages 56/D, 57/D and 59/D.

Dawn has learnt from sources that local agriculture surveillance teams are monitoring areas where possible hatcheries can be found.

Elaborating efforts being made at Piple Pahar, Director (Agriculture) Farooq Javed says a massive combat operation in collaboration with the forest department is under way at hatchery bed of Piple Pahar. The department is using vehicle-mounted boom sprays, tractor-mounted sprayer and so on and so forth.

Punjab Agriculture Minister Nouman Langrial did not respond to calls.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2020