Updated: May 30, 2020 10:26:38 am
Sitting on a cot in his orchard of guavas in a North Delhi village and peeling mangoes on Friday afternoon, 83-year-old Palleram recalled a memory from his youth. “The sky had turned yellow suddenly that day many years ago, that was how big their swarm was. There was a buzzing sound and these big insects (locusts) descended on our wheat crops. Our fields became barren overnight… nothing but straws sticking out of the ground remained the next day,” said the resident of Daryapur Kalan village.
While Palleram doesn’t remember the exact year of the incident, an account by Delhi historian R V Smith mentions the year 1944 as the time when one of the biggest locust invasions took place in the city in recent history.
Palleram said that at the time of the invasion, while everyone had rushed to take cover, he ran into his fields with a bedsheet, swinging it around to distract the swarm, but in vain.
“They only went after soft leaves, of jowar, wheat and other crops. My orchard would be safe if they come around again because the leaves are thicker,” he said.
The possibility of a locust attack in the national capital has prompted the Delhi government to launch an awareness programme for farmers and the general public on prevention techniques to be used.
On Friday, officials from the agriculture unit of the state government’s development department held one such programme with farmers of Daryapur Kalan and its adjoining villages.
However, the central government’s Locust Warning Organisation (LWO) Friday said the possibility of an attack is low because the wind direction over Delhi is unfavourable for transport of active swarms in Rajasthan.
Deputy director of LWO, K L Gurjar, told The Indian Express, “An attack is unlikely at present. The swarms in Rajasthan would remain there for now.”
Farmers in Daryapur Kalan said they would buy chemicals to spray on locusts in case an attack is confirmed.
Jaypal Sehrawat (48), cutting his jowar crop to be used as fodder for his cattle, said: “Most fields are empty right now because the wheat crop has been harvested and the ground is being prepared for the next crop. If the swarms attack, the damage would be to the jowar, which would be wiped out completely.”
Farmers also said an attack can cause them further financial suffering, as the coronavirus lockdown has already made a dent in their pockets.
Deepak Rohila’s farm has six bighas of land covered with sprawling tomato plants, with rotting tomatoes stuck to the vine. The 40-year-old said, “We tried to sell what we could to residents here as there were no buyers at Azadpur Mandi. I invested Rs 4,000 to transport these tomatoes there but only made Rs 1,500 in sales. They are rotting because we can’t do anything with them. I will have to spend more money to buy chemicals for the locusts now, otherwise the farm would be destroyed.”
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