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Pakistan facing worst attack of desert locusts, says expert


June 2, 2020

Pakistan might lose $8.71 billion worth of agricultural crops during the summer season in case locusts destroyed 75 per cent of the standing crops.

Senior agriculture scientist Dr Chaudhry Inayatullah said this as he spoke at an online lecture, titled ‘Locust Attack & Issues of Food Security’, organised by a think tank, Sindh Social Scientists Forum. A large number of agriculture experts, representatives of provincial agriculture departments, and civil society activists attended the discussion.

Dr Inayatullah is an adviser to the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council and the chief executive officer of the Ace Worldwide Action for Revitalising Sustainable Development. He has also worked as a consultant for the European Union and worked on the locust issue in Sudan and South African countries.

He said the locust attack in Pakistan during the year is of severe nature and coordinated efforts of the federal and provincial government departments were essential for the elimination of locust swarms, which were now in billions.

Dr Inayatullah said it is estimated that if 25 per cent of the crops were damaged during the current season, the loss would be $2.9 billion and if 50 per cent crops were eaten up by locusts, the losses would be around $5.8 billion.

“Monitoring of locust and spraying breeding sites in Pakistan used to be a regular activity, but last year the opportunity was missed. Consequently, the country is facing the worst attack of the desert locust, which is present in 60 districts of all the provinces,” he said.

“Controlling desert locust when it is in swarms is an inter-country operation and communication, and early warning to other countries is a key to success,” he said. “Spraying vast areas is not an ecologically sound practice as it kills all the beneficial insects but in the swarm stage, it is the only way out. The use of semiochemicals is ideal when locust is in the solitary and transitory phase.”

He added that currently, pesticides spray is being carried out in Pakistan through special aircraft, which have been donated by China recently.

Explaining the history of the locust attacks on earth, he recalled that its history could be traced back to Egypt during Pharoahs period and its mention was also there in the Islamic scriptures. “In the recent history, it started in African countries in 1993 and spread to Asian countries.”

Several chemicals, referred to as pheromones or semiochemicals, are released by individual locusts which help bring the mates together, keep the nymphs and adults together, and signal all the nymphs to mature together and get ready for flight, he said.

“Once the season is over, the locusts no more produce aggregation pheromones but produce antibodies, so that they disperse as the season is not favourable for their reproduction and this is called a recession stage,” the expert explained.

Sharing his experience of research in Sudan to disrupt the communication among individual locusts at their different stages of life cycle, he said that if the communication is disrupted, the swarms cannot form. “It is exactly the same strategy which armies use to disrupt the communication of the enemy.”

He said he had studied individual locusts caught from South Africa, Brazil and other countries in the British Museum of Natural History, London, and observed that they had the same morphological characteristics as those which breed in coastal areas of the Red Sea.