New locust attack

May 30 2020

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A FRESH swarm of locusts is on its way from Africa to Pakistan. It is expected to arrive here in early July, according to Federal Minister for Information & Broadcasting Shibli Faraz. We are not aware of the size of the swarm travelling towards Pakistan at present. But it is quite clear that when the crop-eating hoppers from Africa join the local infestations that have already invaded a significantly large area, we will witness the massive destruction of crops as well as rural livelihoods across the country. In a report released a few weeks back, the FAO had warned of “a potentially serious food security crisis” and significant livelihood losses unless urgent action is taken to contain local breeding by the pests. The FAO estimates of potential crop and livelihood losses owing to the new wave of locust attacks over the next several months are quite staggering at a time when the economy is already teetering on the brink because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The minister claimed that the government had formulated a national strategy and made adequate preparations to tackle the locust plague, which had appeared in Pakistan after 27 years, and a national locust control cell was being set up to effectively control the threat. However, it remains unclear as to why the government has been slow to respond to the plague in spite of the alarm raised by the affected farmers as early as last summer after the hoppers attacked and destroyed a significant part of their crops, as well as consistent warnings by international agencies. While the federal government declared an emergency in February to combat the plague, little was done to prevent local breeding and new infestations across 38pc of the country’s total land area in recent months. The FAO report had also blamed insufficient efforts to control breeding and the formation of new swarms for the rapid growth of local locust infestations.

The efforts to control the locust invasion in the country have so far been inadequate and disjointed at best. The Sindh Abadgar Board, a growers’ body, has drawn attention to the absence of coordination between the federal government and the province in the face of the looming danger. Politics has kept the centre and Sindh from uniting their resources and cooperating in order to respond effectively to the threat — to the detriment of the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and food security. The official response to the locust attack in the other provinces has not been satisfactory either. In most parts, farmers have been left to tackle the menace on their own. All stakeholders should realise that time is of the essence in the fight against the crop-eating pests, and they must join forces. The country has already lost a lot of precious time that should have been spent on controlling the formation of local swarms — and not on political point-scoring.

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2020