Fighting locusts safely must to reduce ecological cost of insecticides

August 06, 2020

HYDERABAD: As the fourth generation of desert locusts begin appearing after monsoon rains, the federal and Sindh government have planned to carry out both aerial and ground spray in potential...

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HYDERABAD: As the fourth generation of desert locusts begin appearing after monsoon rains, the federal and Sindh government have planned to carry out both aerial and ground spray in potential breeding fields in Thar Desert to cover a range of different landscapes and ecosystems.

However, traditional nature conservationists, who keep a close eye on the environmentally sensitive areas, suggest following UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) guidelines to avoid loss of biodiversity, water resources and the soil.

Siddiq Rahimoo, a community activist in Mithi, Tharparkar district quoted reports, and said that the new grasses and precious plants that grew after rains have burnt due to the chemical spray, which was supposed to only kill locusts in the desert.

“I understand that the desert is the locusts’ breeding grounds, but the recent move against locusts should be checked in terms of its residual effects on the unique ecosystem and loss of flora and fauna in Thar,” he urged.

He said Thar Desert itself has rangelands, precious food plants, shrubs and water ponds, some of which have been filled after the recent rains. He suggested taking care while spraying to avoid any loss, as community people were yet to be sensitised about entering areas during or after chemical operation.

Some officials also said that certain brands of pesticides were either banned world widely due to negative effects on the environment or were being used without clear guidelines as to how much water should be mixed for diluting to safe levels.

Reports show that even live trees have been burnt in the Sukkur region by melathion 96 (pesticide), which has hazardous effects on human health, surface water and the environment.

Its residues stay for a long time in trees, shrubs and soil, which might cause loss of many species inhabiting the area.

“You cannot imagine the loss of precious wildlife species inhabiting trees, shrubs and earth, which may come under spray,” an official, wishing to remain anonymous, told The News.

Agriculture officials mentioned that like melathion 96, another brand Lambd acyhalothrin also needed to be mixed in higher quantity of water to lessen its effects on the environment. Otherwise, it could kill snakes and all insects inhabiting the affected area.

Swarms of locusts in their flying phase have almost crossed the entire districts in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

FAO and a range of partners working on desert locust management – including governments, and organisations like the World Health Organization and the UN Environment Programme – have developed standard operating protocols to guide the planning and execution of control campaigns so that these responses are safe for human, animal and crop health.

It is clearly mentioned in the guidelines that spraying must be applied to the locust itself and not generally to vegetation. In the process, control officers carefully avoid inhabited areas and grazing animals.

“Only well-trained and properly equipped teams can undertake control operations, not farmers,” it said.

“After the pesticide is applied, people and animals are not allowed to enter the area for a predetermined period of time,” the guidelines read.

But the situation is contradictory to the set guidelines and community herders and farmers were at risk when grazing animals in the areas under operation.

Sindh had received locusts in May 2019 via neighbouring Balochistan province. The recent locust emergency was declared by the government of Pakistan on March 31, 2020. The federal government has facilitated Sindh government by providing aircrafts and vehicles with chemicals to conduct effective operation in its breeding grounds.

People have reported flying and landing insects in Hyderabad, Matiari and other districts, causing panic among farmers.

Mustafa Nangraj of Sindh Agriculture Extension department said, “Survey and spray are ongoing in Thar Desert, which is said to be the breeding ground for locusts. The survey identifies the infested areas and then teams start spraying the breeding grounds with chemical to kill the insects.”

The official called it a targeted operation.

“It is the last phase of operation against locusts in the desert, its breeding ground. Because there is no report of its presence with intensity in crop lands,” he added.

Farmer leaders support the action taken by the federal and provincial governments to curb locusts to save the crops to avoid food security issues. But they are also conscious about the loss of ecosystems in case the spray is conducted without following appropriate guidelines.

Researchers engaged in agriculture and food security said government officials were unaware of the negative impacts, such as burnt trees and shrubs, as well as wildlife mortality in operation areas.

Rasool Bux Khaskheli, representing the Agriculture Extension department in the northern region of the province, said results have been achieved through chemical spray in breeding grounds to control locusts.

About the environmental issues coming up, he suggested conducting two studies to measure the loss of ecosystems in operation areas and the damage locusts could inflict on food security.

“There is a need for balanced actions to achieve positive results to control locusts and protect ecosystems,” he said.

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