Environmentalists hail PM’s approach of countering locust attacks by giving financial incentives to people:

By Adeel Saeed

PESHAWAR, Jun 10 (APP):Environmentalists and Wildlife experts are hailing government’s plan of countering locust attacks in the country by giving financial incentives to people to catch the pest and sell it to poultry farmers as protein rich feed.
The approach has been termed as environment friendly because using  aerial spray of pesticides for culling swarms of locust would leave negative impact on human health through contamination of crops, water besides affecting birds population by eating of poisoned pests.
It merits a mention here that the federal cabinet with the Prime Minister in chair in its meeting on June 2. 2020 while holding discussion on locust attacks in the country had approved a proposal for dealing the threat by giving financial incentives to people to catch these insects and supply to poultry farmers at the rate of Rs. 15 per kg.
The plan is already introduced and executed in Okara district of Punjab through the efforts of Muhammad Khurshid, a civil servant in Ministry of National Food Security and Research and Johar Ali, a Bio-technologist from Pakistan Agriculture Research Council.For attracting people towards the programme, they used the slogan of `Catch locusts, Earn Money.
Save Crops’.Prime Minister, Imran Khan while hailing the pilot project expressed the desire that this biological control approach should be implemented across the country after consent of provinces as this would not only give some relief to already coronavirus hit people but also boost  poultry farming, besides eradication of migratory insects.“Infact, the Prime Minister wanted to turn the crisis into an opportunity, therefore, he approved a plan of catching and selling locusts,” said Federal Minister for Information, Shibli Faraz while talking with newsmen after the cabinet meeting.
“This approach of countering locust attacks would not damage the environment and ecosystem which will become affected through use of pesticides,” observed  Jamshed Iqbal Chaudhry, Senior Manager Research and Conservation, WWF-Pakistan.Talking to APP, Jamshed Chaudhry said using  pesticides for countering locust threat should be used as a last option because of its far reaching negative impact on life cycle by disturbing  the environment and damaging birds population for which this pest is a prey.“Aerial and ground spray of chemicals kill all sorts of life coming in its way by polluting air, water and soil,” Jamshed remarked. Jamshed Chaudhry said there were numerous species of birds which eat locusts.The environmentalist expressed very much concern over damage to avian diversity after use of pesticides for culling swarms of locusts.
The poisoned dead locusts would be utilized by birds in all the affected districts of Pakistan and will ensue in large scale mortality in avifauna.
Jamshed expressed serious concern about the survival of  the already much endangered Great  Indian Bustard whose population was only around 150 to 200 in the region.This highly endangered species which was found in Cholistan deserts of Pakistan and India was also considered as predator of locust; and, if it eats pesticide affected pests, the result would be devastating, Jamshed warned.
Apart from the Great Indian Bustard, a large number of other bird species also eat locust and would become affected due to the impact of insecticides.“The plan approved by the Prime Minister was very much appropriate in countering a serious threat and would also serve as a stimulus for COVID-19 affected people because of lockdown and slump in commercial activities,” Jamshed commented.
“There is no doubt that attacks by locust swarms are unprecedented in the history of the country, eviscerating farmlands in the width and breath of the country, but its solution should be environment friendly,” observed Dr. Mumtaz Malik, Former Chief Conservator Wildlife Department Khyber Pakhtunk thehwa.He said the federal government’s plan of involving the public in catching  pests was very much viable in tackling  the menace without compromising the environment and biodiversity.Dr. Mumtaz Malik urged the provincial government to give serious consideration to this plan and chalk out a strategy on war footings for its execution.
According to reports, locusts swarms have attacked 31 districts in Baclushitan, 10 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, four in Punjab and seven in Sindh while this new pestilence was raising alarm for the summer cropping season, Mumtaz told APP.
Dr. Mumtaz Malik also termed locust attacks as indicator of decline in birds population in the wake of illegal hunting, trapping and habitat loss.Arrival of such a large quantity of pests indicates decrease in its natural predation by birds, observed Dr. Msumtaz while talking to APP.
In the broad spectrum significance of birds, animals, insects and soil microorganisms cannot be overlooked in maintaining the natural balance by virtue of their vital ecological, environmental and socio-economic role, he opined.In the agriculture interface, the birds and insects serve as the biological control agents to safeguard the crops and vegetation.“In recent scenarios the locusts’ conundrum has popped up in arid and semi-arid zones of the country due to the loss of their predatory species including birds, lizards, spiders and desert foxes which were active biological agents in controlling their population,” opined Muhammad Niaz, Divisional Wildlife Officer KP Wildlife Department.
The locusts’ swarms  may consist of billions of pests with as many as 80 million per square kilometer.Study revealed that during a plague, some birds which do not normally eat locusts also included them in their diet, Niaz told APP.
Hailing the  plan of countering the attacking pest by using people to catch it and sell to poultry farmers, was a very much suitable solution which would not affect the natural cycle.However, he said, its implementation needs prompt response by concerned departments besides cooperation by poultry farmers.He said locust feed is also very much suitable for poultry and will give very positive results to farmers besides people who get involved in catching it.Niaz quoted news reports that those who got themselves involved in Okara district of Punjab in catching  locusts had made an average haul of seven tonnes a night at community level and earned  hundreds of thousands of rupees besides providing protein rich feed to  the chicken industry.Niaz said the importance of birds in controlling locusts could be gauged from the fact that  Chinese government had also planned to deploy ducks to encounter the approaching swarm of locusts.“It is interesting to point out the cost-benefit ratio of bio-control programs and the fertilizers application,” pointed Dr. Tariq Nawaz Khattak, a former Bio-chemist and Research Officer at NIFA (Nuclear Institute of Food and Agriculture).Talking to APP, Tariq said biological control proved to be very successful economically because using  such a large quantity of pesticides would cost in billions of rupees.Quoting minutes of a meeting of the Ministry of Food Security and Research held in November 2019, Tariq said the government  had decided to allocate Rs. 500 million for controlling locust and to import 100,000 tonnes of pesticide.The plan of engaging local communities in affected districts to earn money by catching the pest and selling to poultry feed will not only save millions of rupees of national kitty but also ensure prevalence of vital ecosystems besides keeping the endangered biodiversity unthreatened, Tariq concluded.