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August 18, 2019

FAO warns of looming threat to crops from locust in Punjab, Sindh


August 18, 2019

LAHORE: Although Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warns about potential threat to crops from onslaught of locust in Punjab and Sindh provinces, local authorities express satisfaction over the counter measures being taken in the affected areas.

According to an assessment by Punjab government, the locusts have been under control in Cholistan, a hotspot in the southern parts of the province. In the aftermath of attack by locust swarms in Cholistan, the situation is completely under control.

Pesticides have been sprayed on an area of more than 6,000 acres, using a specially designed aircraft, vehicles and camels, according to a briefing on Saturday, which was presided over by Punjab Chief Secretary Yousaf Naseem Khokhar.

It was informed on the occasion that Balochistan province has overcome the problem of locusts but operation was underway in Sindh. Special surveillance teams have been deployed in areas bordering India as the threat of pest attack from Indian side still persists. Training workshops are also being arranged for staff.

Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) Director General Raja Khurram Shahzad briefed the meeting that attack of locusts in Cholistan has been countered very effectively by spraying pesticides on a large scale. He maintained that aerial spray was carried out on an area of over 1,000 acres whereas pesticides were sprayed on 5,000 acres by using vehicles and camels.

The chief secretary said that continuous monitoring of locusts should be ensured as this threat would persist till the end of September. He said high level of vigilance should be maintained to successfully eliminate the pest.

He mentioned that local communities should be mobilised for scouting because their cooperation was of significant importance in efforts to combat locusts.

However, as per evaluation of FAO, in Southwest Asia, substantial ground control operations are in progress against numerous spring-bred swarms of Desert Locust that appeared in Rajasthan, India during July and laid eggs, which hatched and caused hopper groups and bands to form. Smaller operations are underway in adjacent areas of Pakistan, says a report of FAO.

Locust numbers will increase further from widespread hatching in India and a second generation of breeding in Pakistan, giving rise to additional hopper bands in August and adult swarms in September, FAO warns.

FAO stated that significant threat to crops in Sindh, Punjab and adjacent Indian states persist, calling for mandatory intensive survey and control operation against the locust attack.

As per an FAO report, locusts are the oldest migratory pest in the world. They differ from ordinary grasshoppers in their ability to change behaviour and form swarms that can migrate over large distances.

The most devastating of all locust species is the Desert Locust. During plagues, it can easily affect 20 percent of the Earth’s land, more than 65 of the world’s poorest countries, and potentially damage the livelihood of one tenth of the world’s population. During quiet periods, Desert Locusts live in the desert areas between West Africa and India – an area of about 16 million square kilometre where they normally survive in about 30 countries.

Locusts have a high capacity to multiply, form groups, migrate over relatively large distances (they can fly up to 150 km per day) and, if good rains fall and ecological conditions become favourable, rapidly reproduce and increase some 20-fold in three months.

Locust adults can eat their own weight every day, ie about two grams of fresh vegetation per day. A swarm the size of Bamako, Niamey or Paris will consume the same amount of food in a single day as half the population of Mali, Niger and France respectively.

If infestations are not detected and controlled, devastating plagues can develop that often take several years and hundreds of millions of dollars to bring under control with severe consequences on food security and livelihoods.