locust attack in India
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Over the last some days, hordes of locusts have been sighted in urban zones of Rajasthan, which is rare. Swarms have also been reported from portions of Madhya Pradesh and Vidharbha region of Maharashtra. The first groups were sighted along the India-Pakistan border on April 11, months ahead of the normal time of their advent.

What are locusts and when are they sighted in India?

The desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) is a short-horned grasshopper. Inoffensive when alone, locusts go through a behavioral change when their populace builds up speedily. They enter the ‘gregarious stage’ by forming gigantic swarms that can travel up to 150 km per day, eating up every bit of foliage on their way. These bugsnourish on an enormous variety of crops. If not controlled, locust swarms can intimidate the food security of a nation. Presently,nations in the Horn of Africa such as Ethiopia and Somalia perceive one of the worst locusts attacks in the last 25 years. In India, locusts are usually sighted during July- October along the Pakistan border. Last year, portions of Western Rajasthan and Northern Gujarat testified swarms that caused impairment to growing rabi crops. These were the first swarms reported in India since 1997. This year, the first sightings of trivial groups were reported early — on April 11 — byexperts of the Agriculture Ministry’s Locust Warning Organization (LWO), from Sri Ganganagar and Jaisalmer districts of Rajasthan.

Why are locusts being seen in urban areas?

Locusts are being seen in regions not historically allied with such sightings — Jaipur, MP’s Gwalior, Morena and Sheopur, and lately stray swarms in Maharashtra’s Amravati, Nagpur and Wardha. K L Gurjar, Deputy Director of LWO, said there being nil crops in the fields, the locusts have moved across states enticed by green cover. “The swarms were abetted by high-speed airstream and therefore they made their way to Jaipur,” he said. Right now, there are three to four swarms in Rajasthan, another two or three in Madhya Pradesh, from where a trivial group has voyaged to Maharashtra, which Gurjar said would not be very problematic to control.

Keith Cressman, senior locust interpreter of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said the locusts have begun moving in exploration of food. “Spring-bred swarms from Pakistan started incoming in Rajasthan earlier this month. As this is before the monsoon falls, they found parched conditions so they continued to move east in Rajasthan eyeing for green flora for food and shelter where they will mature and then lay eggs with the commencement of the monsoon in about five weeks,” he said.

What led to their early arrival?

This can be outlined back to the cyclonic storms Mekunu and Luban that had struck Oman and Yemen in that order in 2018. These turned huge deserts tracts into lakes, enabling locust breeding that continued through 2019. Swarms attacking crops in East Africa touched peak populations from November, and built up in southern Iran and Pakistan since the commencement of 2020, with hefty rains in East Africa in March-April assistingadditional breeding.

What can it do to crops in India?

At this time, probabilities of crop damage are low given that farmers have already reaped their rabi crop. Orange growers in Maharashtra have voicedtheir apprehension but as Gurjar said, the swarm in Maharashtra would be easy to control. The bigger issue will come once the current swarms breed. An adult female locust lays 80-90 eggs thrice in her three-month life cycle. If left unrestrained, a swarm can grow exponentially to 40-80 million locusts per square kilometre, Gurjar and others estimates. The locusts will begin laying eggs after the monsoon commences and carry on breeding for two more months, with newer generations growing during the growth stage of the kharif crop.

Earlier this month, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar presided a meeting to take stock of the condition. Control encompasses spraying insecticide on locusts’ night inactive places like trees. Till date, the LWO has carried out spraying over 21,675 hectares in Rajasthan. India has also put an order of 60 specialized insecticide sprinklers with the UK. Gurjar said the nation already has 50 such machines. “Also, drones will be used to spray the resting places,” he added.