Locust attack threatens food security in South Asia,Losses of Rs.600 billion in Pakistan

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) announced that nine aircraft will spray locust-infested areas with insecticides on Monday.
Briefing reporters at General Headquarters (GHQ), NDMA Chairman Lt Gen Mohammad Afzal said at present five aircraft were available for which kits had been imported from the US.
He said a PAF C-130 plane had also brought a plane from Turkey for the purpose.
“That plane is also ready and will fly to Multan for deployment tomorrow (Thursday),” he remarked.
He said Department of Plant Protection (DPP) had also three helicopters which would be available in next three to four days.
“That means a total of nine planes will be available for spraying next Monday onwards”.
In south western Balochistan, a remote part of Pakistan, desert locusts are busy eating crops. According to residents of Garang, a poor, sparsely populated village in Washuk district which lies a few hundred kilometres from Iran, bands of desert locust nymphs are growing by the day.

“Slowly and gradually, these locusts are eating away at everything in cultivated lands. Now, they are moving towards other fields in nearby villages,” said Maulvi Satar Baloch, a farmer.

In neighbouring Kharan district, which has patches of green and cultivated lands, the situation is similar. Locusts are thriving on vegetation, eating all they can find, despite the spraying of pesticide.

This year’s locust infestation is a continuation of 2019’s outbreak in Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and South Asia, which is said to be the worst in decades.

As farmers described an unprecedented presence of the insatiable pests, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned it could lead to a major threat to food security.

In a report prepared for Pakistan, the FAO warned of a locust invasion. “Iran and Pakistan are especially prone as locust breeding is taking place in these areas, also due to the wet winter this year. In Pakistan, 38% of the area (60% in Balochistan, 25% in Sindh and 15% in Punjab) are breeding grounds for the desert locust, whereas the entire country is under the threat of invasion if the desert locust is not contained in the breeding regions.”Each day, a locust can eat its own weight – about two grams of fresh vegetation. They thrive particularly in areas where rainfall and green vegetation are plentiful and breed rapidly to swell into havoc-wreaking swarms.

Blow to food supply

The FAO report’s worst-case forecast predicted “severe damage” in areas where major rabi (winter-sown crops like wheat, chickpea and oilseed) grow. At a 25% level of damage, the FAO estimates total potential losses to agriculture of PKR 353 billion (US$ 2.2 billion) for the rabi crops, and PKR 464 billion for kharif (summer-sown crops).

“In the midst of additional impacts by Covid-19 on health, livelihoods and food security and nutrition of the most vulnerable communities and populations of Pakistan, it is imperative to contain and control successfully the Desert Locust infestation,” it said.

Cross-border swarms foraging for food

Mubarik Ahmed, Pakistan’s national coordinator for locust control and one of the authors of the FAO report, said the country faces multiple threats from the pest.

The first, as reported by farmers in Balochistan, is from local breeding by last year’s population, which damaged around 40% of the crop in Sindh.

“What we saw in 2019, we haven’t seen since 1993,” said Ahmed, adding that for the first time in decades, the insect inhabited pockets in all provinces of Pakistan. “Prior to that, the locusts were restricted to the Cholistan desert in Punjab or Thar in Sindh in the summer seasons. But last year, they migrated to other cultivated areas of Sindh and Punjab as well as the northern regions in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which had never heard of this pest before. They have developed new routes and have even entered Afghanistan.”Ahmed said these locusts prefer areas where the ground is moist and rain-fed drains are abundant. “There is a huge network of these drains in Balochistan, where a dormant population from 2019 is breeding. Locusts have not yet entered from Iran.”

The migratory threat from Iran, however, still looms. Ahmed said locusts entered Pakistan last year from two hotspots in Iran – the Sistan Baluchestan province and Bushehr – and could return this year.

Ominously, he said the delayed swarm will be bigger, as the longer period will give more generations a chance to breed.

Another possible infestation can be expected from Oman, where it originated last year, as well as the Horn of Africa which is experiencing excessive rain and mass growth of desert locusts.

In its conclusion, the report said locust populations will move from the spring breeding areas in Balochistan and adjacent areas of southeast Iran to the summer breeding areas along both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border. The movement will continue throughout June, so untreated swarms are likely to cross the Indus valley and reach the desert areas in Tharparkar, Nara and Cholistan in time for the start of the monsoon rains. It also warned of a second threat of invasion by swarms in East Africa in late June and in July.

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South Punjab News : Locust attack threatens food security in South Asia,Losses of Rs.600 billion in Pakistan
Locust attack threatens food security in South Asia,Losses of Rs.600 billion in Pakistan
He said Department of Plant Protection (DPP) had also three helicopters which would be available in next three to four days.
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