Full-scale locust invasion if timely action not taken, warns FAO

Published May 23, 2020
A very preliminary estimate for a worst-case scenario foresees about 34,000 households affected by the infestation. — AFP/File
A very preliminary estimate for a worst-case scenario foresees about 34,000 households affected by the infestation. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Food and Agriculture Organisation of United Nations says that desert locust breeding in Pakistan is ongoing across 38 per cent of the land area and warns that the entire country could be under locust invasion if the pest is not contained in time.

According to a ‘Desert Locust Crisis Appeal’ document, released by FAO, the 38 per cent of land area comprises 60 per cent in Balochistan, 25 per cent in Sindh and 15 per cent in Punjab. The report says that mature adult groups of locusts have moved north in Sistan and Balochistan to South Khorasan, where they are laying eggs.

There are capacity gaps at federal, provincial and district levels, and FAO continues to provide equipment like ‘eLocust3g handheld devices’ for data collection and transmission in real time and vehicle-mounted sprayers coupled with technical capacity building, but more support is needed, the report said.

Furthermore, the Food Security and Agriculture Working Group (FSAWG) in Pakistan, co-led by FAO and the World Food Programme in coordination with the Ministry of National Food Security, is jointly planning needs assessment in 38 districts impacted by desert locust.

The FSAWG developed assessment tools in coordination with regional bureaus and is working on remote tool applications with FAO and partners.

The FAO says it has evolved a strategy to limit desert locust populations to the extent possible in order to prevent a fully-fledged plague from developing, and to curb the spread of desert locust, and seeking assistance worth $23.75 million from donors.

A very preliminary estimate for a worst-case scenario (devastating infestations) foresees about 34,000 households (some 238,000 people) in need across three provinces. If ongoing surveillance and control efforts are taken to be effective mitigation measures, the worst-case scenario at this point seems unlikely. A mid-case impact scenario is, therefore, considered, which would translate into around 19,500 households (about 136,500 people) in need.

The plan entails estimates of crop damage at 25 per cent, 50 per cent and 75 per cent loss of production of various Rabi and Kharif crops. The monetary value of the estimated losses at 25 per cent, 50 per cent and 75 per cent for Rabi crops are $2.2 billion, $4.4 billion and $6.6 billion, respectively, and for Kharif crops $2.9 billion, $5.8 billion and $8.7 billion. While the 2019-20 Rabi season is in harvest, Kharif planting will start in May in Balochistan and Sindh, and in May and June in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab.

The report says that spring breeding will continue in coastal and interior areas of Balochistan during May and June, when an increasing number of hoppers will become adults and form groups as well as perhaps a few small swarms.

As vegetation dries out and temperatures increase, adult groups and swarms will move from spring breeding areas in Balochistan and adjacent areas of Iran to summer breeding areas along both sides of India-Pakistan border.

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2020

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