Several states in northern India, including Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are facing one of the worst locust attacks, adding to their worries during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to agro experts, this is the most severe locust attack in nearly 26 years which threatens to destroy crops and disrupt food security in the country. Overseas, Kenya faces its worst attack of locusts in 70 years, while Ethiopia and Somalia are battling worst invasion in 25 years.
Swarms of locusts have entered Rajasthan's Jaipur and parts of Maharashtra and Delhi, posing a big risk to standing crops, plants and trees. These locusts, which came from Pakistan, have already caused large scale destruction of over at least 5,00,000 hectares of land in Rajasthan, mostly in western and eastern part of the state.
The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has forecasted losses to agriculture from locusts this year could be as much as $2.2 billion for winter crops like wheat and potatoes and about $2.88 billion for summer crops of cotton, sugarcane and rice.
The locusts, which bred and matured in Iran and Pakistan's Balochistan, are one of the oldest migratory pests that belongs to species of grasshoppers. Locusts swarms can fly up to 150 km in a day and each locust can eat around two grams of crop i.e. equivalent to its own weight. These swarms destroy crops and thereby disrupting the entire agricultural economy is what is commonly referred to as locust plague.
Here are key facts on Locusts:
- 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 per cent 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, according to FAO.
- During quiet periods, Desert Locusts live in the desert areas between West Africa and India - an area of about 16 million square km where they normally survive in about 30 countries.
- Three pests, the Italian Locust, the Moroccan Locust, and the Asian Migratory Locust, jeopardise food security and livelihood in Caucasus and Central Asia (CCA) as well as in adjacent areas of northern Afghanistan and southern Russian Federation.
- Other locust species of economic importance in the world are: the Red Locust (Nomadacris septemfasciata) in Eastern Africa, the Brown Locust (Locustana pardalina) in southern Africa, Migratory Locusts (Locusta migratoria) throughout Africa and Asia, the Tree Locust (Anacridium melanorhodon) mainly in Africa, the Moroccan Locust (Dociostaurus maroccanus) and the Italian Locust (Calliptamus italicus) in North Africa, Europe and Central Asia, and the Australian Plague Locust (Chortoicetes terminifera) in Australia.
- Locusts have a high capacity to multiply, form groups, migrate over relatively large distances (they can fly up to 150 km per day) and rapidly reproduce and increase some 20-fold in three months.
- Locust adults can eat as much as their own weight every day, i.e. about two grams of fresh vegetation per day.
- 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.
India has reached out to Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Africa for a joint effort to contain the spread of locusts which pose a major threat to food security in the region. A high-level virtual meeting on desert locusts in Southwest Asian countries (Afghanistan, India, Iran and Pakistan) was held on March 11, 2020 in New Delhi, India.
By Chitranjan Kumar with inputs from United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)