Aided by strong westerly winds, small groups of locusts have been sighted in eastern Uttar Pradesh and along the Bihar border. While scientists of the Locust Watch Organisation (LWO) have expressed confidence that these groups will be controlled, bigger incursions are expected in July when new swarms from Oman and Yemen can enter parts of Punjab, Gujarat and Rajasthan along the India-Pakistan border.
Since they were first sighted early in May, locusts have posed an unforeseen challenge to Indian agriculture. Unusual rains in uninhabited parts of Yemen and Saudi Arabia in 2018 had led to unrestricted breeding of locusts, which first made their presence felt in the winter months of 2019.
Locusts are generally sighted towards the end of July when solitary insects visit the desert areas bordering the India-Pakistan border to complete their lifecycle and breed.
This year, not only have the locusts been sighted almost two months in advance, but also instead of the solitary insects, swarms of young immature adults have been reported in India.
Swarms of locusts were reported from urban areas like Jaipur in Rajasthan, while some small groups were also reported from as far as Vidarbha area of Maharashtra. Scientists from the LWO had said that the sighting in urban areas was because of strong winds and absence of standing crops in the fields for the swarms to feed on. Locusts, which can travel more than 150 km per day, had travelled to urban areas in search of green cover.
K L Gurjar, deputy direct of the LWO, told The Indian Express that at present, at least 10-15 swarms are active in India. “The strong westerlies have led the swarms to be divided into groups, which have found their way to distant parts of the country like eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. We are confident that they will be controlled soon,” he said.
The onset of the monsoons, Gurjar said, will prevent the present swarms from moving further into the country and instead concentrate in the sandy areas of deserts, where they will breed and lay eggs.
Since May this year, India has reported locust control in over 1.14 lakh hectares, mainly in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatishgarh. “So far, the Rajasthan government has deployed at least 2,142 tractors and 46 fire brigade vehicles, Madhya Pradesh 83 tractors and 47 fire brigade vehicles, Uttar Pradesh four tractors and 16 fire brigade vehicles, Punjab 50 tractors and six fire brigade vehicles and Gujarat deployed 38 tractors for locust control. The immature locust is very active and mobile, making it difficult to control the swarm at one location, due to which it takes four to five days to control at different locations to completely eliminate the locust population in one place. The yellow, mature adults appear tending to copulate in some areas,” an official release of the Press Information Bureau read.
Meanwhile, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has warned of newer swarms entering India towards the middle of July. Swarms from the Horn of Africa, Yemen and Oman, which are in the immature state, are expected to reach India after July 19.
Gurjar said if the rains in these parts continues to be good, swarms will reach India at a time when most kharif crop will be in its growth phase. “Extensive control operations will have to be taken up then to prevent crop damage,” he said.
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