More swarms of crop-eating locusts are likely to migrate from Somalia to the summer breeding areas along the India-Pakistan border, the agriculture ministry has said in a statement, prompting officials in six most “at-risk” states to be on high alert.
Operations to control infestation are continuing in six states — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana — by locust circle offices. The invasions have caused “minor crop losses”, according to a status update till July 3.
The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has said locust invasions from Africa, the worst in 70 years, pose a “serious” risk to the country’s agriculture.
Currently, immature pink locusts and adult yellow locusts are active in Jaisalmer, Barmer, Jodhpur, Nagaur, Sikar, Jaipur, and Alwar of Rajasthan and Tikamgarh (Madhya Pradesh), according to the update.
An inter-ministerial empowered group has ramped up resources to protect the country’s robustly progressing kharif or summer-sown crops.
It has hired five technology firms to provide five advanced drones each of up to 50kg each, apart from helicopters hired from Pawan Hans Ltd.
Till July 3, control operations have been carried out in 1,32,777 hectares in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. State governments have carried out containment in another 1,13,003 hectare. One hectare equals 2.5 acre.
“The use of drones is something new and is evidently very effective. India should maintain enough production and supply of malathion, the main pesticide effective against locust, throughout the summer months,” said Pramod Vajpayi, a former entomologist with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.
So far, 12 drones have been deployed in Jaisalmer, Barmer, Jodhpur, Bikaner, and Nagaur. Drones are effective for covering tall trees and inaccessible areas. One drone can douse crops with pesticides in 16-17 hectare area in one hour.
In one of the largest operations so far, in the intervening night of 2nd and 3rd July, containment activities were carried out at 19 places across seven districts–Jaisalmer, Barmer, Jodhpur, Nagaur, Sikar, Jaipur, and Alwar of Rajasthan and Tikamgarh, an official, requesting anonymity, said.
Desert locusts can fly hundreds of kilometres a day and one square-km swarm can eat as much crop food as 35,000 people in terms of weight in a single day, according to the FAO Desert Locust Information Service manual. If unchecked, locust infestations can cause a considerable drop in food output.
The Horn of Africa has been witnessing large breading by locusts since 2019 due to frequent cyclones possibly linked to climate change and swarms have invaded several regions from there, according to FAO.