The coming few weeks could see a fresh attack of desert locust, as the Food and Agriculture Office (FAO) of the United Nations warned of fresh incursions from Africa along the India-Pakistan border.
As this coincides with the growth phase of kharif crops, officials said these new incursions are a cause of serious concern. The only silver lining is that most swarms arriving or expected to arrive are mature insects who will not be able to fly out great distances, and will hence be easier to control.
Since they were first reported in early April, locusts have made their presence felt in various parts of the country. Other than their usual haunts along the Indo-Pakistan border, swarms have been reported from Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. Locust sightings were reported from urban areas of Rajasthan, including Jaipur and Jodhpur, and from Lucknow and other urban centres of North India.
A press statement issued by the Ministry of Agriculture stated that till date, locust control operations have been carried out over 3.16 lakh hectares of area, adding that the damage to crops due to the swarms was minimal.
The latest FAO warning, issued on July 13, does not augur well for India, as it talks of imminent migration of swarms from northern Somalia across the Indian Ocean. “More swarms are likely to form in northern Somalia in the coming week,” the statement read. “India and Pakistan have been warned accordingly, and they continue to take preparatory actions. During the migration, a few swarms could briefly appear in transit along the eastern coast of Oman.”
Senior scientists of the Locust Watch Organisation – the dedicated unit under the department of plant quarantine of the Ministry of Agriculture – however, said the newer swarms will mostly consist of yellow adult insects who do not fly much. “The young immature swarms are difficult to control and inflict the most damage, as they move large distances in search of food,” a scientist said. Locusts require sandy, loomy soil to lay eggs, and the Thar Desert along the Indo-Pakistan border provides the most salubrious conditions for them to copulate and then lay eggs.
During control operations, LWO scientists reported immature hopper bands in Barmer, Bikaner and Jodhpur, which they felt were results of the first breeding in Sindh and other regions of Pakistan. However, since the second week of June, they have not seen too many immature bands, and only mature adult insects have been noted.
With the advent of the monsoon, swarms will be migrating towards Rajasthan, and thus control operations will shift there. “Migration of swarms will depend on wind speed and rain, so in case the winds are not favourable, the swarms might not land in India,” the scientist added.
Scientists feel they will be able to control swarms in India within the next two months, and do not foresee any new breeding happening in India later on.
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