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June 27, 2019

Punjab braces for onslaught of locust swarms from Sindh


June 27, 2019

LAHORE: With little resources to spare, Punjab braces for onslaught of locust swarms that can eat up crops and inflict huge economic losses on farmers and the national economy.

After devastating green cover in Balochistan, there are reports of locust swarms spreading in Sindh’s main cotton belt, posing serious threat to the standing cash crop. In Punjab, it is acknowledged here officially that border districts of Bahawalpur and Rahim Yar Khan are now within grasp of the insects’ range.

A senior official of the Punjab government said a stray swarm of locust, which entered from Rajasthan into Kandera Toba of Bahawalpur, was identified and neutralised. However, threat of its spread looms large, as swarms are swiftly growing in numbers from Sindh.

No major counter plan has been put in place for the affected areas or locations under threat by the department concerned, which is busy in establishing contacts with the relevant quarters.

The provincial departments are continuing at a snail's pace in this regard, which may cost farmers dearly. Sources said that the federal government's Plant Protection Department was also not geared up to deal with the alarming situation due to multiple factors. Referring to surveillance of locust threat, an official of the Punjab government said reports of incidences were looming around with chances of the swarms moving to Cholistan areas of Bahawalpur and Rahim Yar Khan Districts. Vulnerability of desert areas of southern Punjab for summer breeding was already established, he said, and added that instructions received from the Ministry of National Food Security and Research (MNF&R) were being followed to avoid the threat.

However, the official admitted shortcomings in capacity building of staff to deal with this menace. He was of the view that training of staff, survey of area, dissemination of awareness among growers and subsequent action to counter the threat would be a real challenge.

The provincial Agriculture Department has asked the federal ministry to assign a focal person for implementing the action plan approved by the centre for all provinces to work in tandem for management of this threat accordingly.

According to an official correspondence between Sindh Agriculture Department and Federal Plant Protection Department, provincial government informed that the locust swarm was spreading in other areas of Sindh. Recently, the official added that locust presence has been reported in Districts Jamshoro, Nawabshah (Shaheed Benazirabad), and Nushero Feroz.

In this regard, it is stated that Sindh Agriculture Department already established emergency centres with nominated focal persons. Therefore, the official asked the federal government to depute teams from the department to take necessary survey and arrange spray to control the menace of locusts in all areas.

According to Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nation (FAO-UN), operations are in progress against hopper and adult groups of locust in a few summer areas of Nara and Cholistan deserts. Teams treated 4,625 hectares till June 15.

Adult groups move from Balochistan to the summer breeding areas along the Indo-Pakistan border, where more locusts hatch and form hopper groups. Similarly, ground control operations continue in breeding areas of Balochistan against hopper groups in the interior (Dalbandin) and near the coast in Turbat, Gwadar and Lasbela.

Citing dynamics of desert locust population, FAO states that Pakistan is an important front-line country for Desert Locust because it has summer and spring breeding areas. Summer breeding normally occurs along the Indian border in the deserts of Tharparkar, Khipro and Cholistan.

The timing of summer breeding coincides with the southwest monsoon rains, which normally arrive during the second half of June or first half of July and end in September or October. The scale and location of breeding differs every year, depending on the duration and nature of monsoon rains.

The locusts tend to stay out of the irrigated agricultural areas of the Indus Valley except during periods of increased locust activity. Locust populations from adjacent areas in Rajasthan, India can cross back and forth along the common border during the summer.

Once the monsoon rains end and vegetation dries out, locust adults will move from both countries towards the spring breeding areas in western Pakistan.

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