Efforts underway to curb locusts’ infestation to mitigate food security threat:

By Dr Saeed Ahmed Ali

LAHORE, Jun 08 (APP):Among other socio-economic and health challenges, one of the bigger issues for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government is to combat the locusts attack on crops in the country.

The destructive species of the desert had invaded various parts of the country during March-April. It flies in large groups and destroys all the crops and plants. The massive swarms of the species had posed serious threat to food security in the country.

The locusts had hit the country’s vegetation after twenty seven years, originating from East Africa, covering a distance about 170 kilometers every day. A single locust gives birth to about 200 offspring.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in its recent report has warned the farmers across the globe that the locusts attack could lead to a major threat to food security in the infested regions.

The FAO report issued for Pakistan had warned that Iran and Pakistan were especially prone to locust as this year the locust breeding was taking place in these regions due to favorite climatic conditions.

The UN body said that in Pakistan, 38 percent of the total area of which 60 percent area was in Balochistan, 25 percent in Sindh and 15 percent in Punjab, were the favorite breeding grounds for the desert locust.

The FAO Director General Qu Dongyu had said that the infestation could be the worst terming it ‘severe damage’ in areas where major Rabi crops (winter-sown) including wheat, oil seeds and chickpea were grown.

Giving details of locusts’ damage losses, Dongyu said “The crops’ damage could reach Rs 205 billion, if we alone calculate a damage level of 15 percent to the total production of wheat, gram and potato”. He said that at a 25 percent level of damage, the total potential losses could be reaching to Rs 353 billion for the Rabi crops, adding about Rs 464 billion for kharif crops (summer-sown).

Talking to APP, Punjab Agriculture Department officials said that the current year’s wave of locust invasion is a continuation of locust outbreak of Africa, Arabian region South Asia during 2019, adding the 2020 infestation was the worst during the last many decades. “If not stopped, the locust could lead towards a serious food security threat”, they added.

Besides impacts of Covid-19, including health, livelihoods, food security and nutrition, for the population of Pakistan, the sources said, it was imperative to mitigate and control the locusts.

Federal Minister for National Food Security Syed Fakhar Imam said that Prime Minister Imran Khan while declaring Locust infestation a national emergency had directed the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to eliminate locusts as soon as possible.

The National Locust Control Center (NLCC) details released said that the joint teams of the Ministry of National Food Security, provincial departments of agriculture and Pakistan Army were conducting a comprehensive survey and control operation against locusts in different districts of the country.

A document of NDMA revealed that over 90,000 army officials had been deputed to protect crops through ‘fumigation campaign’ against migratory swarms attacking on agro farmlands.
The NDMA in its details had further observed that majority of the locust attacks were reported in Balochistan where 31 districts witnessed crop damage from locusts.

Similarly, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 11 districts became under locust attacks while 12 districts of Punjab and seven districts of Sindh were attacked by the swarms, NDMA said. So far 238399 square kilometers area, some 24 million hectares have been surveyed in the country. Meanwhile, control operations have been carried out in an area of 5,430 square kilometers (approximately 543036 hectares) the NDMA document revealed.

In worst hit province Balochistan, so far 152,220 hectares had been surveyed in 33 districts which included Khuzdar, Noshki, Awaran, Gwadar, Chaghi, Lasbela, Panjgur, Ketch, Kharan, Quetta, Washik Barkhan, Daki, Dera Bugti, Harnai, it said. The major affected areas include Jaffarabad, Bolan, Jhal Magsi, Kalat, Qila Saifullah, Qila Abdullah, Kohlu, Mastung, Loralai, Musa Khel, Pishin, Naseerabad, Sarab, Sibi, Sohbatpur, Ziarat and Zhob.

The Punjab Government Spokesperson Musarrat Jamshed Cheema said that the Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar after receiving assessment and calculations of the losses caused by the insects had announced release of Rs1billion funds to counter it and protect the crops. She said that the CM had directed the Agriculture Department and the PDMA to stay vigilant round-the-clock for locust surveillance.