The topic ‘Desert Locust attack 2020: India’ which we are discussing today, is the most trending topic after COVID-19. It’s trending on social media, NEWS everywhere. So, let’s get into the topic to have complete knowledge about the current Locust situation.

India is facing the worst Desert locust attack in decades. Desert locust have invaded India via Pakistan. These are insects that travel in large swarms that can travel up to 150 kilometers in a day depending on the wind speed. It can eat its own body weight in food, around 2g.

As per the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates, a swarm the size of Paris can eat the same amount of food in a day as half the population of France.

The desert locust swarm is considered the most destructive migratory pest in the world and a single swarm covering one square kilometre can contain up to 80 million locusts.

Why and how they move to India?

These desert locusts are typically found in the Arabian peninsula. In 2018, heavy rain in the Horn of Africa region led many countries like Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia to the flood, right after a very severe drought the previous year.

Now after the heavy rainfall in the region, the wet conditions proved favourable for the locusts. The dormant eggs “reawakened”, they bred through three generations, leading to an 8,000-fold increase in locust numbers.

If rainfall occurs slightly above than the average rainfall and green vegetation develops, the locusts can rapidly increase in number in a month or two.

The locust population in Africa had already reached swarm levels by 2019. The Horn of Africa has been the most severely hit by locust swarm attacks, as the FAO has described it as “an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods”.

Now, they started moving from Africa to Iran, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia and then to Pakistan. Newer swarms formed and spread to Pakistan, where they devastated the cotton economy.

Now they reached to India due to favourable weather conditions.

Damage by Locusts in India

History

The locust attacks in India are not new. This time the NEWS become viral because they have come to India in such a large proportion after 27 years. The current attacks by locust are the worst in India since 1993 but India has not witnessed any full-blown locust cycles after 1962.

The attacks by Locust have been mentioned in almost all ancient texts such as wall paintings on ancients Egyptian pyramids, Bible, Koran. Even Sanskrit poems dating back to 747 BC talked about locus attack.

 India has witnessed several locust attacks since 1812.

According to the Union Agriculture Ministry data, locusts damaged crops worth Rs 10 crore during the 1926-31 plague cycle. Approx Rs 2 crore per cycle during the 1940-46 and 1949-55 plague cycles and Rs 50 lakh during the last locust plague cycle (1959-62).

According to the government records, 190 locusts swarms had attacked an area of at least 3,10,000 hectares in Jaiselmer, Barmer, Bhuj and Jalore districts of Rajasthan in 1993. In 1997 and 2005, large areas in these districts again had to be treated with chemicals to get rid of locust swarms.

Even in December 2019, when the parts of Gujarat were attacked by locusts, they had destroyed crops spread over 25,000 hectares of land. 

Locust attack 2020 and India
Credit: FAO

2020 Locusts attack

This time the NEWS of locust attacks goes viral because most of the attacks by locust swarms in India since 1993 have been localised to Rajasthan only. They are normally present during the summer period in the desert areas of western India, primarily in western Rajasthan and to a lesser extent in Gujarat, roughly from about June to November.

But in 2020, favourable weather conditions (due to westerlies) have facilitated locusts’ travel from Rajasthan to Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.

About 1.7 lakh hectares of farmlands of oilseed, cumin and wheat in India have been affected by locust swarms.

The UN’s food and agriculture organisation (FAO) has warned India that the worst locust invasion is yet to come. As per the FAO, the locust infestation is likely to get severe by next month. Larger Locust swarms that bred in Horn of Africa and parts of the Arabian Peninsula due to abnormal weather activities are also likely to move towards Pakistan and India very soon.  They could be accompanied by other swarms too.

States battling with Locust Attack 2020

Rajasthan

Locust attack has reached residential colonies of Jaipur. You all might have seen the videos. When they did not get crops, they started destroying trees.

They have destroyed crops spread over one lakh hectares in Rajasthan. The state has been facing the locust menace for over three months now. Pink swarming locusts have destroyed lush green fields laden with Rabi crops this year. 

Govt is taking precautionary measures, Agriculture Ministry officials are spraying chemicals to neutralise the large swarm of locusts before they cause more destruction.

Farmers in the state have ben using different tactics such as beating steel utensils during late afternoons and evenings, playing loud music at night, creating wood-fire and running the tractor inside their field to scare away the locusts. But these methods are not working

Gujarat

Gujarat is facing the locust problem for over five months now. They have created havoc in several villages in Lodiya, Savarkundla, Khambha Jaffarabad, Botad of Amreli district and other districts in Gujarat.

The state govt Gujarat has set up control rooms in the locust-affected areas. Govt is using vehicles, sprayers, medicines, tankers and other equipment to control locusts. Pesticides are also being used.

In Gujarat, 18,727 hectares of farmland was affected. 

Madhya Pradesh

Locust swarms have invaded around 16 out of the 52 districts in the state.

The state govt dealing with the problem by spraying chemicals via fire brigade, spraying insecticides and has advised farmers to make noise around farms to scare the locust away.

Uttar Pradesh

The Uttar Pradesh has reported sightings of swarms of locust in Jhansi, Agra and Delhi’s neighbouring Gautam Budh Nagar.

The locusts are likely to affect crops in 17 districts – Jhansi, Mahoba, Hamirpur, Agra, Aligarh, Mathura, Bulandshahr, Hathras, Etah, Firozabad, Mainpuri, Etawah, Farrukhabad, Auraiya, Jalaun, Kanpur and Lalitpur.

state govt and local administration is taking precautionary measures to deal with this problem during COVID-19.

Maharashtra

Eastern districts of Maharashtra are facing locust attacks. The district and agriculture department personnel have initiated chemical spraying on crops and vegetation to save them from the migratory pests.

Punjab

Punjab has been facing locust attacks for several months. The worst is yet to come. So warnings have been issued and measures are being taken to fight the worst locust attack by Punjab govt.

Delhi govt has also issue warnings.

How India monitors these desert locusts

In India, the locust survey and control operations are the responsibility of the Locust Warning Organization (LWO) within the Ministry of Agriculture.

Locust Warning Organization (LWO) has two headquarters, one in Faridabad (Haryana) for administrative duties and one in Jodhpur (Rajasthan) for technical operations.

India’s permanent locust warning and control system under Indian Council of Agricultural Research was set up in 1939, the system monitors the locust scenario in the desert regions of Rajasthan and Gujarat.

The Locust Warning Organization (LWO) is the oldest national locust monitoring system in any locust-affected country, dating from the pre-partition British colonial period in 1939

How can we control the Locusts

It’s almost impossible to completely destroy locust attacks but the severity of it can be reduced by destroying egg masses laid by invading swarms.

these can be destroyed using insecticidal baits and spraying insecticides on both the swarms and their breeding grounds. Large-scale locust invasions require equipment like large sprayer aircraft that are still not easily available in India.

India has also proposed to Pakistan and Iran for a coordinated approach in dealing with this alarming situation of locust attacks. Pakistan has not responded yet to India’s proposal while Iran is ready for a joint approach to contain the desert locusts.

What are locusts

As per the FAO, locusts and grasshoppers are short-horned insects belonging to a Family called Acrididae. They breed in exponential numbers as they migrate long distances in destructive swarms.

There are four species of locusts in India – desert locust, migratory locust, Bombay locust and the tree locust. 

locusts swarm

Locusts are different from grasshoppers by their ability to change behaviour, habits and migrate over large distances.

Grasshoppers or hoppers don’t live in groups. But due to hunger and food scarcity, they start to gather together in search widely for food. When their population increases in an area, they start becoming “gregarious”.

Gregariousness in ecology is the tendency of animals to form social groups to hunt or eat together. It leads to induce hoppers to start coordinating their movements and form swarms. So, Gregarious hoppers are referred to as locusts.

Now, as per the population of the locusts of a single group, there are three forms of swarms:

  • Small pockets confined to certain areas, called outbreaks.
  • Slightly larger groups called an upsurge, that is still geographically confined.
  • Mega groups are called plagues of locusts that are separated by breeding locations but gather together in swarms.

Now, Locusts are believed to become gregarious when they constantly touch each other on their hind legs. The touching of hind legs releases serotonin which is a ‘happy hormone’. this hormone is also found in humans, released in the body during exercise. 

The scientific experiment has shown that this release of hormones can occur in as few as 10 locusts if they are tightly packed. The gregariousness also leads to changes in appearance, turning them from green to a shade of yellow-brown, and strengthening their muscles.

You must note that female locusts can lay eggs at least thrice in their lifetime (roughly three to five months), at intervals of 6-11 days. The population of locusts multiply up to 20-fold in three months.

Source: India Today, The Print, FAO

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