Centre, Sindh lock horns over locust threat

Updated 04 May 2020

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Federation says after 18th Amendment it can deal with the problem only from international perspective. — AFP/File
Federation says after 18th Amendment it can deal with the problem only from international perspective. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: Amid allegations and counter-allegations over ways to curb the surging Covid-19 pandemic, the federal and Sindh governments have locked horns on the issue of desert locust which, if not controlled, will endanger food security in the country.

Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari recently issued a statement saying that while the country is under the threat of the locust attack, National Food Security Minister Syed Fakhr Imam was ‘at large’.

On Sunday, the food security ministry came up with a rejoinder, saying his ministry was working with the department of plant protection beyond its mandate. He explained that after the 18th Amendment the federal government can deal with the locust issue from an international perspective and maintaining contacts with locust monitoring organisations.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari argued that despite numerous requests last year, the provinces were left at the mercy of desert locust. “If the federal government fails once again, the country will face another disaster in the wake of desert locust attack,” he warned.

Federation says after 18th Amendment it can deal with the problem only from international perspective

Responding to the Sindh government’s allegations that the federal government was ‘doing nothing’ for locust threat in the province, the food security ministry said that the federal government was fully aware of its responsibility and actively pursuing the threat.

Mr Imam said instead of engaging in in blame game, all stakeholders, including Sindh, should work out a coordinated response to combat this threat. “We are confident that the nation will collectively respond in the best possible manner to the challenge at hand,” while the government is in the process of revisiting the ‘National Action Plan for Locust’ to make it more effective and resourceful.

The ministry said that the threat of locust was not restricted to Sindh, but other provinces were also affected by it. The present locust swarm spotted in Sindh is from Koh-i-Suleman range and not from Balochistan.

As a precautionary measure, the Plant Protection Department has deployed three ground teams, one helicopter and one beaver aircraft in Sukkur.

The migration of locust will start at the end of May from Balochistan and neibouring countries. During migration, these migratory swarms were expected to cross through the cropping area of Sindh, for which the provincial government may alert its agriculture staff to be ready for response.

In this connection, 50 officers of the Sindh agriculture department have already been trained by experts of the Plant Protection Department, according to the ministry.

With a meagre availability of aircraft, the maximum aerial control activities were undertaken on 20,300 hectares in Sindh last year, and will be continued this year.

In 2019, an area of 185,000 hectares was treated in Sindh out of a total of 300,000 hectares. To overcome the shortage of aircraft, the federal government is in the process of hiring planes for spraying. More than 100,000 litres of ULV pesticide has been stored in Sindh and a greater quantity can be provided on requirement.

The food ministry says 12 EC sprayers for the control of locust in cultivated areas have also been deployed in various districts of Sindh.

In anticipation of the possible threat, the prime minister has evoked a ‘National Emergency’ on locust, and as a result, a ‘National Action Plan’ was put into place in collaboration with the provinces. Resultantly, strong measures have been taken to survey the land areas in all the provinces in order to take corrective measures where necessary, the ministry added.

Published in Dawn, May 4th, 2020