Chances of fresh arrivals of swarms of locusts from across the border are a cause of concern for Rajasthan’s agriculture department. Among the disrtricts in the state, Sri Ganganagar, Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Barmer, which are located on Indo-Pak border, are more vulnerable to locust attacks.
Officials said that while there was limited damage to cotton crop in some places, the locusts are currently under control.
Control operations have been done in nearly 4.3 lakh hectares area in 10 states since April 11, the agriculture ministry said earlier. As most of the concentration of locusts are located in various districts of Rajasthan, farmer leaders said that crops in as many as 2 lakh hectares areas have been affected where farmers cannot even re-sow due to lower rainfall.
In Bikaner, which has a kharif sown area of 14 lakh hectare in a normal year, the current sowing is completed only in 2.5 lakh hectares due to deficient rains. As many as 6 out of 10 districts in western Rajasthan are facing deficient rainfall while the region as a whole has 15% below normal monsoon, so far. If precipitation improves in next few days, farmers can take up moth (a pulse crop similar to moong) or guar by mid-August.
Multiple swarms of locusts -immature and adults have been reported from across western Rajasthan since mid- May 2020. Both early grown crops and post monsoon crops such as moong, cotton, bajra and jowar are affected at varying degree of losses. “Although the control measures implemented by both Central and state governments have yielded much desired outcome, we must not be complacent as locusts now can strike from within due to localized breedings as well outside as reported by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO),” said says Bhagirath Choudhary, founder director of South Asia Biotechnology Centre, an organisation working on invasive pest such as fall armyworm and locust.
Both Centre and states must enhance coordination and make available chemcials- more of those which can be applied on crops without phytotoxicity. The government should also evaluate the outcome of different mode of spraying such as drone and aerial spraying by helicopter in order to optimise resource utilisation in the future control programs, he said.
Farmer leaders blame both Centre and the state for not controlling locusts at the beginning and said that the swarm of pests spread to other states due to not intervening in time. “The Centre should not do politics over it and take it as a priority as this is a threat coming from outside India while states have limited resources to manage such pests. The state government should also concentrate more on locust control,” said Amra Ram, a former MLA and farmer leader of Rajasthan.
The FAO in its July 21 update has said that the risk of swarm migration from Horn of Africa prevails in coming weeks. In Somalia, the swarms are moving eastwards across the north and a limited number of swarms could migrate across the Indian Ocean to the Indo-Pakistan border area.
“The kharif crops where these locusts have spread have been completely damaged as they eat out everything and there is no time left for re-sowing. Fortunately, the areas where these locusts are spotted are very limited, so far. But the government has to be cautious and should use immediate pest control to prevent spread if there is fresh arrival from across the border,” said Rampal Jat, another farmer leader.
“Since small farm holders in Rajasthan and the border districts are more vulnerable to locust threat, the government should declare the locust attack as a natural disaster so that farmers get some compensation under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY),” Choudhary said.
Normally, with the arrival of the monsoon, locust swarms enter the desert areas of India via Pakistan for breeding in the summer of June-July. But this year, presence of locusts was reported on April 11 as the uncontrolled swarms of the previous season in Pakistan breed continuously without any check. During 2019-20, there was also a massive locust attack in India, which was controlled by operations conducted from May 2019 to February 2020 in which 4.03 lakh hectare was treated with pesticides and other chemicals.