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Thursday, October 01, 2020

Explained: Where the locusts are, and where they head next

On Monday, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to declare the locust outbreak in the state a “national disaster”.

Written by Parthasarathi Biswas | Pune | Updated: August 4, 2020 10:53:25 am
A huge tropical locust swarm in Jaipur. (Express Photo by Rohit Jain Paras)

On Monday, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to declare the locust outbreak in the state a “national disaster”. His letter came at a time when locust swarms seen in several states in May-June have ceased to be spotted in urban centres.

What happened to the swarms?

After the fresh swarms arrived in April, much before their usual sighting time of May, the absence of standing crops led to the swarms migrating in search of green fodder. Thus the parks of Jaipur, the orange orchards of Nagpur, the sugarcane fields of eastern Uttar Pradesh, and parts of Madhya Pradesh reported locusts in May-June.

Once the monsoon started, sightings became rarer with swarms flying back to Rajasthan. Location indicators of both the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Union Agriculture Ministry’s Locust Warning Organisation (LWO) shows concentration of the swarms in Rajasthan districts along the India-Pakistan border.

What took them back to Rajasthan?

The reason behind this can be found in locusts’ egg-laying habits. The female drills a hole around 10-15 cm into the ground and lays eggs in pods. And sandy soil is most conducive for this.

Swarms that had returned to Rajasthan earlier have completed their lifecycle and young hoppers have emerged from eggs there. Such hopper bands have been reported from Hanumangarh, Ganganagar, Jaipur and Bikaner in Rajasthan, and Bhuj in Gujarat. Breeding is going on Barmer, Bikaner, Jodhpur, Churu and Nagaour, as well as Bhuj.

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How serious is the situation?

LWO scientists say localised breeding should not be a concern. “For the first and second growth stages or instars, the hoppers can’t fly. They crawl out of their pods in search of food and can be easily controlled through spraying of chemicals or mechanical means,” a scientist said. Till date, control operations for swarms and young hoppers have been carried out over 4.28 lakh hectares across the country.

Do locusts not devour everything green on their way?

Following the swarms’ return to Rajasthan, there have been reports of damage to pulses, soyabean etc. While farmers from some districts have reported damage to their castor crops, the LWO has said the extent of damage has been low. LWO scientists say it is easier to control fully grown, yellow adults than immature, pink ones (the latter can fly around 100 km in a night, and the former only around 40-50 km).

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Will there be a locust problem in the rabi season?

LWO officials say chances appear to be slim, as they are confident of controlling the remaining swarms by the end of September. Also, swarms from the Horn of Africa did not arrive in mid-July as was expected.

Bhagirath Choudhary, founder director of South Asia Biotechnology Centre, cautioned against officials lowering their guard. “We should ensure the locust does not become endemic to India and remains seasonal visitors only,” he said.

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