It is 3 pm. Sameer Sahu, Ram Lal, Dayaram and a couple of other farmers, along with their workers, have gathered in their fields, eyes peeled and ears cocked.
Naggi, a small village with around 2,700 voters, is the last one along the India-Pakistan border in Karanpur constituency of Rajasthan’s Sriganganagar district. But it’s not infiltrators that these farmers are watching out for, its locusts.
Across the barbed fence, Ram Lal and the others can clearly hear the sounds of bursting crackers, DJ music, and the crackling of dry grass being burnt — all classic methods to ward off the dreaded pest that attacks in swarms.
“We got an alert from BSF and hence almost the entire village had gathered in the fields on Thursday afternoon when we saw the swarm coming from the Pakistan side,” said Sahu, pointing to the damaged crop in his gram fields.
Close to the fence are fields full of jowar, black gram and mustard crops. And the damage is clearly visible. In a few fields, the yellow flowers of mustard have disappeared, in others, soft green stalks of jowar and black gram had have been chewed up. “We were beating thalis for hours together. This tiddi dal does extensive damage once it attacks,” said Ram Lal.
Mohan Lal, who owns 21 bigha of farming land close to border, says, “Look, you can see fumes rising in the sky on the Pakistan side. Even music can be heard. Now the swarm will come towards this side. Our side is more green. So our damage will be more. Is it a conspiracy of Pakistan?”
“The fields have dry sandy soil which is ideal for locusts to burrow in. They even rest on the babool and kikar trees seen in between the fields. We have been doing everything we can — beating thalis, dhols, playing music…but they keep coming from the other side,” said Het Ram and Daya Ram, who claimed nearly 4 bighas of crops have been damaged.
At 3.30 pm, they spot the swarm entering from the other side of the fence, amid sounds of bursting crackers. “Now we will be busy again in controlling them,” said Mamraj, position abouth a kilometre from the fence. His wheat crop had suffered extensive damage.
Sameer Sahu said, “Border villages always face a tougher challenge. During the 1971 Indo-Pak war…the Pakistan Army had entered the village before the Indian Army took control. The Naggi war memorial has been built in the memory of martyrs…but the challenge of locusts is of another level.”
He added, “The village has a BSF checkpost, hence we keep getting updates about the swarm from them as well. These days farmers keep a constant vigil on the sky and stay alert about wind directions. We are more bothered about the sounds coming from the other side…we have to be prepared at all times.”
The villagers said they cannot go and do farming across the fence before the start of the ‘zero line’. Sahu said, “Our challenges are shortage of water, farming before zero line, seeking permission from BSF before going to fields close to the fence…and now our constant vigil for the swarm.”
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The locusts are said to have now travelled to other villages as well, where crops are being vigorously sprayed. “How much spraying should we do? It can harm the crops as well,” said Het Ram.
So far, funds worth over Rs 5 crore have been sanctioned for spraying of pesticides. “Work is still going on,” said Suwa Lal Jat, joint director plant protection, department of agriculture, Rajasthan.
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