India gears up for a new crisis: desert locusts

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A large swarm of locusts attacked the Jaipur city on Monday (May 25) morning, severely affecting the farmers in the state.

Earlier, the breeding centres of locusts were African nations and hence they used to take time to reach India.

The most feared wetlands of locusts have destroyed huge crop fields in Rajasthan, Punjab, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, endangering the very foundations of human civilization.

The FAO reports that the desert locust situation in West Africa is now calm, although this could change. The locust party, which was confined to the border districts of Rajasthan till previous year, has attacked in Jaipur this time.

This anticipated migration from the Horn of Africa will be joined by swarms arriving from spring breeding areas in south-west Pakistan and southern Iran from this month to July. But, India has not witnessed any full-blown locust cycles after 1962.

The locust menace has spread to as many as 18 districts of Rajasthan, as the insects travel rapidly in search of food. Some 80 million adults can squeeze into just a single square kilometer and fly up to 150km in one day, consuming around the same amount of food as 35,000 adult humans on a daily basis.

"Since the last one year, locust swarms have resulted in serious losses for farmers".

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Talking to this scribe, agriculture expert Ramzan Sheikh said that the desert locust was one of about a dozen species of short-horned grasshoppers.

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Another official in the ministry said the locust attack is threatening to spread further to the east and poses "an escalating danger to food security". However, under appropriate conditions of drought followed by rapid vegetation growth, serotonin in their brains triggers a dramatic set of changes: they start to breed abundantly, becoming gregarious and nomadic (loosely described as migratory) when their populations become dense enough.

Despite the prevailing COVID-19 lockdown, the Locust Control Offices are working since April 11, 2020 with 50 spray equipment/vehicles, in coordination with officials of District Administration and State Agriculture Department, according to Union Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Minister.

Additionally, the Rajasthan government is considering tenders so drones can be used to counter the locust threat, he said.

While releasing a report on the locust control campaign in East Africa and Yemen, FAO's Director-General Qu Dongyu, noted that the United Nations agency had continued its surveillance and control operations despite constraints such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

With the locusts coming earlier during the dry season, they are moving farther from the bare desert region near the border to interior areas with vegetation.

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