HYDERABAD: A locust swarm is seen in this file photo.—APP
HYDERABAD: A locust swarm is seen in this file photo.—APP

ISLAMABAD: After getting clearance from the Planning Commission, the ‘Locust Emergency and Food Security’ project is now ready for implementation and will be submitted for formal approval at the next meeting of the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec), the Ministry of National Food Security and Research has announced.

The three-year project, for which the World Bank has approved financing of $200 million, will help control locust outbreak, restore livelihoods in locust-affected areas and strengthen the country’s national food security monitoring and management system.

This will be the World Bank’s first agriculture project in the country in collaboration with the federal government since 2010 when the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution devolved agriculture and rural affairs to provinces.

Though the desert locust situation in the country is now calm following months of control operations, the project will strengthen national capacity for early warning and response, linking these efforts to existing locust surveillance and control networks and strengthening the information system of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research.

The project will be implemented across the country, with a focus on provinces and districts under acute locust attack. Overall, 38 per cent of the country’s geographic area is breeding and recession prone to desert locusts, while the rest of the country is at risk of invasion.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has declared eleven districts of Balochistan, 14 districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 13 districts of Punjab and eight districts of Sindh at risk of locust attacks.

Since locust attack has affected a number of districts in these provinces, it is difficult to assess the indirect environmental hazards that may occur to these ecologically-sensitive areas. The ground and aerial sprays for locust are mostly carried out in agricultural land and areas, the impacts on non-target ecological habitat, protected areas and water bodies is not known, according to a World Bank report related to the project.

Given that the project plans to invest in the government’s locust response, which includes aerial- and ground-based spraying of pesticides in the locust-infested areas, the risk of pollution of water bodies, soil, and human and animal health in general, is high.

Conventional pesticides like Melathion and Lambda are being used by the government, at ultra-low volumes, can increase their toxicity level. Over 30,000 hectares in Sindh, 281,000 hectares in Balochistan, 41,000 hectares in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and 149,000 hectares in Punjab have been treated with aerial and ground sprays of pesticides.

The Ministry of National Food Security and Research will take the overall coordination role of the project and oversee project implementation through support of provincial governments, Department of Plant Protection, Food and Agriculture Organization, National Locust Control Center and NDMA, taking into account the comparative advantages of each of the organisations.

The project will support early warning preparedness and food security, strengthening national locust surveillance systems, straightening linkages with regional networks and strengthening Food Security and Nutrition Information System.

Farm-level operations will be carried out in the districts through district administrations who will lead control operations with support of the Agriculture Department and Disaster Manag­ement Units and Provincial Disaster Management Auth­orities.

The provincial governments will be responsible for implementation of projects in their respective provinces, coordination with project partners, locust monitoring, delivery of control operations in identified areas, support to crop reporting services, livelihood and rehabilitation support to affected farmers.

Published in Dawn, October 25th, 2020