Farmers look for succour after locust invasion

Updated 19 Oct 2020


Balochistan does not have the resources to cope with the scourge all on its own. — Photo courtesy Manoj Genani/File
Balochistan does not have the resources to cope with the scourge all on its own. — Photo courtesy Manoj Genani/File

Mastung: A valley seems to have sprung out of nowhere in Dasht, a tehsil in Balochistan’s Mastung district.

Like other parts of the tehsil, the Talk Kawi valley is green and offers a clean and pleasant air.

On our way to the valley by car from Quetta we encounter a fat, small snake, but promptly dismiss the thought that it’s a bad omen.

We reach the place after more than an hour’s drive and are welcomed by Hasnain Kurd, an 18-year-old farmer.

He dropped out from the Loralai Cadet College in order to look after his aging parents, eight siblings and the family’s farms.

Talk Kawi has neither any school nor hospital. But a building for a primary school is waiting for teachers and students for the last 12 years. The locals say they have written over a dozen letters to the district education officer to make the school functional, but in vain.

The officer invariably comes up with a mechanical reply that records show no school exists in Talk Kawi.

There is no electricity either. Local farmers have turned to solar energy for cultivating their lands.

But unlike the basic amenities which have not arrived in the town for decades, the locusts descended on the place uninvited on the first day of Eidul Fitr. “I watched helplessly as the swarm destroyed my fields,” a dejected Hasnain recalls.

Within a few days, farms owned by Hasnain, his fellow farmer Basheer and others, vanished as if the earth had gobbled them up.

Farmers whose fields escaped the invasion had nothing but disdain for Hasnain and Basheer. They insinuated that God had punished the two as they had not paid Zakat on their wealth.

Hasnain chuckles over this suggestion. “Who told them we don’t pay Zakat. We are God-fearing people and pay Zakat without fail.”

Dasht is dotted with cultivated lands all around. Farmers from the Kurd, Bangulzai and Shahwani tribes have been working here for generations.

Their market is in Hazarganji, a business hub in Quetta.

Accompanied by our guide Tariq, we head to Killi Shareefabad, a place where Haji Saifullah Bangulzai, our host in Dasht, lives.

Haji is in his late 40s and his father passed away recently. We pray for the departed soul as soon as introduction is over.

Falling water level

Since 1983, Haji Bangulzai has been a farmer. At the time, he recalls, groundwater was usually found after about 250 feet of drilling, but now the level has gone down to 1,100 feet.

“Due to absence of a dam in Dasht, the water level continues to go down. There is no facility for storing rainwater either,” he says with a tinge of helplessness.

“Drought has forced people to leave Dasht for greener pastures in Mastung, Bolan and Quetta.”

In recent months, he lamented, the Balochistan government has done little to curb locust invasion in Dasht. “No vegetation is left here.”

The Director of Plant Protection department, Dr Arif Shah Kakar, agrees. “Donor agencies came to our help a bit too late, even though they were aware of the looming threat of locust invasion.”

Understandably, Balochistan does not have the resources to cope with the scourge all on its own. In some parts of the province, government departments have been virtually dysfunctional for long.

“At the time of the locust invasion, these departments were not ready, but somehow we sped up our work after getting enough resources in hand,” Dr Kakar, the director, claims.

Zahoor Ahmed is a poor farmer in the town. The locust scourge robbed him of almost one hundred thousand rupees. He had to take out a loan to install a protective shield around his half-acre farm. But it was too late.

Zahoor has never heard about any government department that could help him in some way or the other. “I do not know, to tell the truth, who to turn to for succour in these trying times.” He hopes the government will come up with some compensation so that he and other farmers could start rebuilding their lives soon.

After returning to Haji Bangulzai’s place, I ask him about his sub-tribe in Bangulzai as I have some interest in the tribal structure of Balochistan. He tells me he belongs to the Badozai sub-tribe.

“My ancestors came centuries ago from Saudi Arabia. They were members of Bidoon tribal groups there.”

Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2020