Over the past several weeks, locust attacks emanating from the desert area in Pakistan have struck parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, causing heavy damage to standing crop. The situation is being closely monitored by agri-experts in the states and the Centre.
The agriculture department in neighbouring Punjab, however, on Thursday said there was no incidence of such attacks in any part of the state.
Explained: What are locust attacks, and how does India tackle them?
Locusts are a group of short-horned grasshoppers that multiply in numbers as they migrate long distances in destructive swarms. Only four species of locusts are found in India: Desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria), Migratory locust (Locusta migratoria), Bombay Locust ( Nomadacris succincta) and Tree locust (Anacridium sp.). The desert locust is regarded as the most important in India as well as internationally.
The swarms devour leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, bark and growing points, and also destroy plants by their sheer weight as they descend on them in massive numbers.
India has a locust control and research scheme that is being implemented through the Locust Warning Organisation (LWO), established in 1939 and amalgamated in 1946 with the Directorate of Plant Protection Quarantine and Storage (PPQS) of the Ministry of Agriculture, according to the PPQS. The LWO’s responsibility is monitoring and control of the locust situation in Scheduled Desert Areas, mainly in Rajasthan and Gujarat, and partly in Punjab and Haryana.
According to the locust division of the Directorate of Plant Protection, Quarantine and Storage, Faridabad, which under the central government, a small swarm of the desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria), a polyphagous feeder (eating a large variety of plants), eats on average “as much food in one day as about 10 elephants, 25 camels or 2500 people”.
According to the Directorate, locusts damaged crops worth Rs 10 crore during the 1926-31 plague cycle. During the 1940-46 and 1949-55 locust plague cycles, the damage was estimated at Rs 2 crore each, and at Rs 50 lakh during the last locust plague cycle (1959-62).
Although no locust plague cycles have been observed after 1962, during 1978 and 1993, largescale attacks were reported.
India is most at risk of a swarm invasion just before the onset of the monsoon. The swarms usually originate in the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa.
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