Thursday June 20, 2024

Massive locust burst feared after above-average monsoon

By Munawar Hasan
June 11, 2020

LAHORE: National Agromet Centre has warned that around 10 percent higher rains, expected in the upcoming monsoon season, are going to provide a perfect environment for the locusts to thrive, which in the absence of drastic countermeasures could prove disastrous for the country’s agriculture production.

This above average amount of rainfall and resultant extensive growth of vegetation would be ideal for new invading swarms in June and July from Africa and other south and south-western breeding areas.

According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the number of locusts is feared to grow 400 times by June onward and is likely to cause a crisis if left unchecked.

Amid growing concern of fresh attacks of locust looming large, it is learnt that officials of Pakistan and India are going to meet in the third week of June tentatively in a border town of Sindh to ponder ways and means to repulse locust infestation. A senior official of Punjab Agriculture Department said a meeting in this connection would be the first direct contact between the authorities of both countries for dealing with this developing challenge, threatening crops on millions of acres of farmland.

In this explosive unfolding situation, stakeholders of agriculture sector have also warned the government about imminent danger to Kharif crops from another wave of locust.

“As a massive attack of locust is being seen subsiding since last week, there is no room at all for any complacency as a much bigger wave of deadly locust is approaching towards the plains of the country within a few days or weeks,” said Shehzad Ali Malik, ex-Chairman Rice Exporter Association of Pakistan (REAP) while referring various forecasts of international and national bodies.

The rice crop was particularly in danger in Sindh and Punjab from the attack of locust, he said and adding, “we have no capacity to counter new huge locust swarms”. “The Department of Plant Protection’s (DPP) ability to cope with the situation has been eroded with passage of time mainly due to lack of resources.” He claimed the DPP had only one plane at its disposal for aerial spray, which was an effective tool for fighting infestation of desert locust, a relentless crop munching insect.

Malik said the paddy would be at the flowering stage in the next five to six weeks and with a healthy plant structure, adding it could be a target for the new swarms of locust if agencies concerned failed to take swift remedial measures and any damage to rice and other Kharif crops would create serious food security and economic challenges for farmers as well as for the whole country. “Not only food security of the country would God-forbid in jeopardy, the momentum of healthy exports would also be adversely affected due to this menace,” he observed.

Keeping in view such alarming scenarios, he said, the government had no other option but to focus on elimination of locust swarms without any delay.

As per latest National Agromet Centre forecast regarding the impact of weather on locust growth, monsoon rainfall is expected to be slightly above normal (+10 percent) during July to September 2020 in Pakistan. Sindh and Kashmir are likely to receive moderately above normal (+20 percent) rainfall during the season.

The higher rains would provide favorable environment for locust breeding during monsoon season.

Moreover, temperatures are expected to remain higher than the requisite criteria (>35 °C) in most parts of the lower half of the country. However, it is satisfactory to note that higher temperatures may decrease the lifetime of Locust (below 6 months) and their activities may also be affected.

Generally, winds are expected to be southwesterly in lowland areas especially over the Sindh province, which comprises vulnerable areas. Fortunately, it is expected that these winds would push locust away towards eastern border or Indian side.

According to the latest assessment of National Agromet Center, locust has been confirmed in 53 districts of Pakistan. Balochistan is leading with 33, followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with 10, Sindh 08 and Punjab with 02 districts at present. Early migration of spring-bred swarms from southwest Pakistan to Rajasthan, India occurred in May before the monsoon. Control operations are underway by using insecticides.

As precautionary measures, widespread and appropriate insecticides spray using aeroplanes/helicopters or special vehicles in the affected areas, is the only solution to control the spread of locust. Otherwise, an environment conducive to locust breeding during monsoon season would multiply the insects massively.