Locust threat

20 May 2020

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THE international community should give its best possible support to the call being made by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation for funds to help Pakistan and Iran in their fight against a new locust invasion. The dangerous pest has been threatening crop and non-crop vegetation in many parts of the world, in addition to Pakistan and Iran, for quite a few years now. But the danger has taken an altogether new dimension in the wake of food security apprehensions being expressed by experts in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Food security, protection of rural livelihoods and sustainable agriculture are central to any scheme to restore the Covid-19 world to minimum functioning levels. However, countries like Pakistan and Iran that face massive economic losses and unemployment in this period have little financial space to combat a fresh upsurge of the plague. The devastation, which the locust infestation is feared to cause, will further weaken these countries’ ability to fight this threat or stop it from spreading to neighbouring countries, unless the wealthier nations step in to help them sustain their efforts to avert a food security crisis.

The international funds collected by the FAO in January had helped it make significant gains in dealing with the plague in East African countries and Yemen. Much of that money had been spent on locust-control activities. Now the FAO requires more support for protecting livelihoods in countries under locust attack. For Pakistan, where 38pc of the area (60pc in Balochistan, 25pc in Sindh and 15pc in Punjab) are breeding grounds for the swarms, the situation is already turning dire as struggling farmers from different parts of the country are reporting severe crop damage. The FAO director general has rightly stated that “the battle is long”. Unless this war is won, the locust plague in Pakistan may wipe out more livelihoods than the Covid-19 contagion and worsen food security in the coming months.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2020