The smell of chemicals hung heavy as one entered village 4V in Rajasthan’s Sri Ganganagar district. Soon one notices a fire brigade spraying a chemical over wheat fields.
“It is chlorpyrifos, an insecticide,” informed one of the two masked men manning the hose atop the vehicle that has been sent by the Rajasthan Agriculture Department as part of measures to kill swarms of locusts that have attacked the crop here.
The village in Karanpur constituency is located 40 km away from Kallerkhera, a village in Punjab’s Fazilka district bordering Rajasthan. Fazilka, Muktsar and Bathinda are three Punjab districts that have reported sightings of locusts, popularly known as ‘’Tiddi Dal’’, triggering fear among farmers as the destructive swarms of pests are known to devour the vegetation wherever they settle.
A little distance away from the fire brigade vehicle at village 4V, several farm workers were seen beating steel utensils to scare away the locusts that are believed to have flown in from Pakistan.
“At about 11 am Friday, the swarm arrived in the form of a dark cloud and the locusts started settling on the crop. I had heard about the Tiddi Dal attack from my father and grandfather, and this is the first time I have seen such huge swarms,” said Ranjit Singh.
The 52-year-old landlord cultivates about 80 acres of land. He grows mustard, black gram, wheat and has kinnow orchards. As his farm workers went about beating utensils, strategically placed loudspeakers blared Bollywood songs. Ranjit’s 21-year-old son Rupinder Singh said, “Locusts get distracted by the cacophony. We need to beat the utensils for hours together. We play Bollywood music both to keep ourselves entertained and to prevent the locusts from settling down on the crop”.
Adjoining fields belong to Mukhtiar Singh. The 62-year-old farmer cultivates 16 acres. “This is the biggest Tiddi Dal attack in my life time. There was a mild attack in early 90s, but that was controlled. In Gharsana area, about 70 km from here, the damage to crops is huge, my relatives staying there have told me,” said Mukhtiar Singh.
As per officials, 12 Rajasthan districts are facing one of the worst locust attacks in 26 years. The last outbreak was reported in 1993 when the state’s Agriculture Department had carried out preventive measures on 3,10,482 lakh hectares affected land.
Suwa Lal Jat, Joint Director (Plant Protection), had last month confirmed that locusts started attacking the crops beginning May last year. The attack generally lasts till October end or November-mid but this time it has continued till January.
About a kilometre from 4V is village 24H where an agriculture department team is busy spraying insecticides in the kinnow orchards of farmer Satwinder Singh. “Locusts have also been reported from villages 2X and 3X as well,” said Manoj Kumar, agriculture supervisor working with the team spraying pesticides.
The villages in the area have been named after the outlets of canals passing through the villages.
Dr Rajpal Jhajhria, assistant director, agriculture, Karanpur said they have been carrying out operations since first week of January. “We carried out big operations in villages 24H, 47F, 54F and 12F killing over 25 lakh locusts through sprays,” Jhajhria said, but warned that locust population is likely to increase in March, which is their breeding season.
“We are trying our best to not let that happen as swarms from Sri Ganganagar move towards Punjab, which is an agrarian state. Already locusts have been spotted in border districts of Punjab,” Jhajhria added.
Earlier, last month Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh shot off a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to raise the issue of locust attack with Pakistan for taking effective steps to check the pests from breeding there. He had warned that any failure to control the swarms of locusts could lead to serious implications and consequences for agricultural production in India, especially in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat, which will ultimately affect commodity prices and food security of the country.
“Although Rajasthan has been taking the required action to control this locust attack, the best method of control is to manage the breeding ground itself, which incidentally falls in the adjoining desert area of Pakistan,” Amarinder wrote, adding that the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, which is mandated to control locusts internationally, may also be asked to take effective steps in the neighbouring country to control breeding.
Meanwhile, Pakistan, which is facing its worst locust attack in decades, Friday declared national emergency to tackle the insects destroying crops on a large scale in Punjab province, country’s main region for agricultural production.
According to Punjab Agriculture Secretary Kahan Singh Pannu, locusts found a perfect breeding ground in Pakistan’s desert area bordering Rajasthan. While Pakistan checked their breeding in Bhawalpur and their side of Punjab, where they have crops, it failed to take similar measures in its desert areas. This led to a spurt in locust numbers in their desert area and the pests eventually moved to Rajasthan and Gujarat for feed.
Contacted, Dr GR Matoria, deputy director agriculture (DDA), Sri Ganganagar, said, “We have so far conducted spraying of pesticides in 20,000 hectares in the district. A total of 25 villages have been covered since January 7 when the swarms started coming in large numbers from Pakistan side.” Matoria said that the spraying operations are taken up mostly from 6 am to noon and from 6 pm till 8pm. “During the day time, the swarm moves with sunlight and hence pesticide spray during those hours is not as effective. In villages 8V and 23H, the farmers had put to fire grass near the fields as locusts get distracted by the fumes,” he said.
Of the 12 affected districts in Rajasthan, the problem is acute in Sri Ganganagar, Jaisalmer, Barmer and Jodhpur, said Suwa Lal. “As of now close to 5.64 lakh hectare area is under influence of Tiddi Dal,” he added.
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