Locust Swarm Invasion Might Bring Food Crisis in India - Seeker's Thoughts

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Locust Swarm Invasion Might Bring Food Crisis in India


It may seem like the year 2020 is filled with unprecedented catastrophes, locust attacks are not new. After Iran and Pakistan, the locust swarm has entered India and the forecasting officers have already warned the country against experiencing the worst locust situations in decades. 

This means that the country that is already dealing with a drastic economic and health crisis due to COVID-19 is on the verge of facing the worst agricultural crisis as well.




According to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, “Locust swarm from Pakistan has entered Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttar pradesh, Haryana, and Madhya Pradesh, threatening major damage to standing cotton crops and vegetables.

During the current year, the swarm of locusts has entered India earlier than their normal time of June and July. 



The only reason many on the internet seem to be surprised by the recent locust swarms is that they have come to India in this proportion after 27 years.

Locust attacks have been mentioned in almost all ancient texts, right from wall paintings on ancients Egyptian pyramids to the Bible and Koran. Ancient Greeks talked about locust attacks and so did Sanskrit poems dating back to 747 BC.

The problem that troubled pharaohs, King Ashoka and King Solomon is still a menace in today’s age. Within recorded history, India has witnessed several locust plagues and upsurges since 1812.

What are locusts?

Locusts are insects that belong to the family of grasshoppers. The food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) describes them as the oldest migratory pests in the world, with the desert locust being the “most devastating” of them all.

These insects are usually solidarity and harmless. However, certain environmental conditions like a prolonged monsoon and heavy cyclones make them reproduce faster – almost 20 – fold within three months.

As their population becomes abundant and dense, they change their behavior, form swarms, and start damaging crops. This is known as grangerization. The change in behavior is triggered by close physical contact, following which they then become inclined to disperse together to find food, a scientist at the French research center CIRAD explained.

Locusts devour leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds bark, and growing points, and also destroy plants by their sheer weight as they descend on them in massive numbers.

A small swarm of the desert locust eats on an average as much food in one day as about 10 elephants, 25 camels, or 2,500 people.

But swarms are not always small. In 1875, the US reported a swarm estimated to be 1, 98,000 square miles or 5, 12,817 square kilometers in size. Delhi-NCR is only 1,500 square kilometers, for comparison.

A swarm the size of Delhi may consume the same amount of food in one day s every inhabitant in Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh in one day.


How does a locust swarm form?

There are four types of locusts that create plague – desert locust, migratory locust, Bombay locust, and tree locust. The swarms have built up this year are of the desert locust. When the locusts get s suitable environment and absorb behavioral changes, they change color and often grow larger. They transform themselves from solidary animals into animals that increasingly start breeding, which results in millions of swarms. This majorly happens after a series of strong rain or amid damp environment conditions.

These swarms then travel in search of new food as crops are something which is present in abundance in open fields, the locust swarms settle on the field with the aim to consume the entire vegetation.

40 million locusts can consume (or destroy) food that would suffice the hunger need of 35,000 people, assuming that one person consumes around 2.3 kg of food every day.


Which other countries are affected by locusts?

According to FAO, the current situation remains “extremely alarming” in East Africa where Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia continue to face an unprecedented threat it food security and livelihood. They have also reached Saudi Arabia and Iran to Pakistan and of course India, all while breaking into smaller swarms to travel across the country.

“Climate change may well play a role here, mainly because, according to forecasts by international climate researchers, precipitation will increase in the southern Arabia peninsula and northern East Africa. This mean that there will be more frequent very humid phases, such as we have had since 2018, and it is, therefore, possible that such swarms will simply occur more frequently”

What led to their early arrival?

This can be traced back to the cyclonic storms Mekunu and Luban that had struck Oman and Yemen respectively in 2018. These turned large deserts tracts into lakes, facilitating locust breeding that continued through 2019. Swarms attacking crops in East Africa reached peak populations from November, and built up in southern Iran and Pakistan since the beginning of 2020, with heavy rains in East Africa in March-April enabling further breeding.

Concerns

Locust swarms eat food, food that farmers are growing for humans. If locust attacks of this proportion continue unabated, the insects will wipe out lakhs of tons of food grains and vegetables meant for human consumption.

Apart from a possible lack of food grains and vegetables, locust attacks on farms will also plunge India into fresh economic trouble.

Plagued by an economic slowdown and Covid-19 lockdown, the Indian economy is already on the edge. While experts hope that things will improve after a vaccine for the novel coronavirus comes into the market, an agrarian crisis due to locust attack will throw the government's plans off-balance.

More relief packages will have to be announced and more money will have to be taken out of government coffers, less and less revenue will be generated and food inflation will skyrocket as supply will fall below demand.



India’s effort to controlling locust plague

India is equipped with a proper structure that is responsible to deal with the locust crisis.  The country has a regular system in place comprising Locust Officers. These authorized people with the knowledge of environment and agriculture organise six annual border meetings with Pakistan between June and November to analyse the situation and take necessary action. The dialogue is either organized at Munabao in Rajasthan or Kokhropar on the Pakistani side. A wireless conversation also keeps happening between the officials of the two countries during these months from Jodhpur in India and Karachi in Pakistan.

As per the Locust Warning Organisation (LWO), India has not seen any locust upsurges since December 2011 and the cases have decreased drastically after the advent of new technologies in the agricultural sector including advancement in pest control market. The country has been hit by locust plague several times between 1812 to 1997.

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