Threat to crops: Locusts present in these five states and spreading

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Published: May 27, 2020 3:20 AM

Unless emergency steps are taken and spread of locusts is checked, the kharif crops including cotton may be under risk as sowing is set to start in the northern region from mid-June.

Meanwhile, a huge swarm of desert locusts covering nearly 15 kms in length attacked fields in three to four villages in Katol, a tehsil in Nagpur in eastern Maharashtra, on Monday evening leading to panic among farmers.Meanwhile, a huge swarm of desert locusts covering nearly 15 kms in length attacked fields in three to four villages in Katol, a tehsil in Nagpur in eastern Maharashtra, on Monday evening leading to panic among farmers. (Express photo by Rohit Jain Paras)

At a time when growers of fruits and vegetables in the country are staring at losses due to reduced market access and large-scale crop damages, their problem has been compounded by swarms of locust. The lethal migratory pests have shown their menacing presence in five states namely Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra already and could potentially spread to more states in a jiffy.

Unless emergency steps are taken and spread of locusts is checked, the kharif crops including cotton may be under risk as sowing is set to start in the northern region from mid-June.

Government sources in New Delhi said the Centre was keeping a watch on the pest’s movement and taking steps to contain its spread.

“Vegetables and feed crops like Berseem have been damaged in areas where these locusts have swamped through the fields. Swarms of locusts are very dangerous to all types of vegetation as they are fed on green leaves when they do not get anything,” an official said. Fruit trees could also be affected, but leaves would re-grow in 10 days if watering is done and chemicals sprayed, the official said.

Cotton crop in Ganganagar district and feed crop in many parts of Rajasthan have reportedly been damaged. However, pomegranate trees escaped damage as next flowering will start from mid-July. Rajasthan has been the most badly affected with the migratory pest invading 16 out of the state’s 33 districts. The state government has urged the Centre to provide drones and helicopters for spraying pesticides, besides more spray vehicles.

Meanwhile, a huge swarm of desert locusts covering nearly 15 kms in length attacked fields in three to four villages in Katol, a tehsil in Nagpur in eastern Maharashtra, on Monday evening leading to panic among farmers.

Ravindra Bhosale, joint director, agriculture, Nagpur division, told FE that he had received reports regarding the locust attack late afternoon on Monday and the swarm had entered villages in Katol by 4.30 pm. The swarm entered Maharashtra from Amravati district and then spread to Wardha and later to Katol. The swarm has covered 12-15 kms in length and 2.5 km in width in the state.

These pests usually come from the desert areas in Afghanistan, Pakistan and make their way as per the direction of the wind destroying crops in the transit. Fortunately, there was not much damage to crops in Maharashtra since the fields are being prepared for the new season and locusts passed through orange orchards not liking the bitter taste of the orange leaves.

Controlling the population of locusts is a difficult task but efforts have been made to contain crop damage. “We have alerted farmers in nearby villages not to panic but keep out of their field, make sounds to throw them off, make fires and smoke the fields. We are still tracking them since they travel during the day and rest in fields at night and destroy all kinds of green vegetation,” Bhosale said.

In fact, Maharashtra received alerts since the locusts attacked Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan last week. A similar attack had last occurred in 2006-07 in Marathwada region.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), an agency of the United Nations, the desert locust is considered the most dangerous of all migratory pest species on the planet.

As many as 50 spray equipment/vehicles, in coordination with officials of district administration, as well as tractor mounted sprayers and fire-tender vehicles have been deployed at various locations in the current locust control mission. Additional equipment is also being procured to increase the control capacity, officials said.

Until May 11, the hoppers and pink swarms have been controlled in an area of 14,299 hectares of Jaisalmer, Sri Ganganagar, Jodhpur, Barmer and Nagaur districts in Rajasthan and Fazilka district of Punjab, the agriculture ministry officials said. Since these migratory pests travel during the day time as per the wind direction, it is difficult to predict their movement. Still all districts near the infected districts have been alerted to take suitable measures, the officials 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 earlier 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 of area was treated with pesticides and other chemicals.

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