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June 26, 2019

Growers send out SOS as locusts swarm six districts in Sindh


June 26, 2019

KARACHI: Aerial spray has been started in areas affected by locust swarms in Khairpur, but growers demand the Sindh government to declare an emergency and army action, as the pests have spread to six districts of the province.

A high level meeting was held at the Sindh government level on Tuesday, where Sindh Agriculture Minster Muhammad Ismail Rahoo said his department would bear all costs of the pesticide application.

Serai Nisar Hussain Khaskhely, president, Sindh Chamber of Agriculture Khairpur district, told The News that aerial sprays conducted in Khairpur had not been effective so far, as locusts had moved to 50 points in the district from 30 points one week ago. “Starting from Nara and Mirwah talukas, it has entered into Kot Diji taluka desert as well,” he said.

He said only two vehicles were participating in the spray, while the locust population had reached an alarming number. To find an effective strategy to cope with the locusts, a meeting headed by Sindh Agriculture Minister Muhammad Ismail Rahoo and Sindh Chief Secretary Syed Mumtaz Ali Shah was held on Tuesday at the Sindh Secretariat.

Member Board of Revenue, all divisional commissioners of Sindh, officials of Federal Plant Protection Department and FAO of United Nations attended the meeting. It analysed the damage to crops. Officers briefed the meeting that locusts had attacked crops in different areas of Khairpur, Shaheed Benazirabad (Nawabshah), Jamshoro, Matiari and Sangar districts. Locusts entered Sindh via Balochistan from Iran, the meeting was told, while aerial spray was started from Khairpur.

Rahoo said currently locusts were not in the position to harm the crops on a wider level, and the pests would be stopped before doing so. He said Sindh government would bear the cost of spray and there would be no burden on growers.

The minister also informed that a media campaign would be run for awareness among growers. Sindh government was taking emergency steps to stop the locusts attack, cotton and other crops would be saved, he added.

A control room has been created in the office of chief secretary Sindh to monitor the situation in all the districts, while committees of government officials have been formed at the district level. These committees would include district management, officers of the agriculture department and federal plant protection department. The meeting said agriculture officers in Sukkur would be trained with UN assistance. However, growers, who are the major stakeholders, have not been included in the committees.

Chief Secretary Syed Mumtaz Ali Shah said SUPARCO would also be contacted to survey the locust attacks. “All multinational companies will be asked to make pesticides available for timely spray,” he added.

Nisar Khaskhely, however, said the locust attacks were beyond Sindh government domain, as it was a federal subject, while Plant Protection Department also had a locust control unit in it. “It cannot be controlled without army support,” he added.

Pointing to the distance, he said planes were coming from Sukkur airport, while two nearby airports including a gas field airport could be utilised as there was need to increase the operation manifolds. He said that the current operation was not useful enough against the increasing locust population.

“Deputy Commissioner of Khairpur, avoiding the heat in the day time, visited the deserted area at 9:00pm in the evening, when locusts are not visible,” Khaskhely said. “What report will he generate when locusts do not show at this time?”

He said growers were the affected people, but they were not invited in any of the meetings and visits of the areas, as they demanded transparent operations. Cotton was the most endangered crop, as growers had already put 80 percent investment on it. Rice seed was ready, which would be planted in fields by next week, hence, that could also be vulnerable, Khaskhely added.

Locusts had also appeared in Manjhand, Dadu district near the Indus River. It needed moisture to increase population. Currently, 20 percent locusts have entered the irrigated areas, while 80 percent were still roaming in the deserted and non-irrigated areas.

“It can be controlled through aerial spray in the deserted areas, but once it has fully entered irrigated lands, it will be difficult, as spray is dangerous for livestock,” he said. Last locust attack was recorded in 1993 in Khairpur deserted areas, which had entered from India. “Now, it is going towards India. It started from Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iran,” he said.

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