Desert locust is a small winged insect that inhibits the ability to destroy crop fields during their migration or breeding seasons when they fly in hordes. A single locusts’ swarm ranges from 100,000 to 1 billion locusts flying from one place to another over land.
These locusts in Pakistan have two breeding times and regions: The summer (monsoon June – Nov) breeding period zone in Sindh and Southern Punjab’s deserts of Tharparkar, Khipro and Cholistan and the spring (winter Feb – June) breeding period zone in the desert areas of Balochistan such as Pasni, Turbat, Panjgur, Kharan and Nushki. [Food and agriculture organization of the United Nations FAO-UN]
The newspaper DAWN reports that Pakistan has experienced locusts’ attacks in their breeding regions and outskirts in the past but this year one of the worst outbursts were observed. Attacks were reported throughout the year such as in May and June 2019, and then again in November of the same year with variable amount of damage in different crop regions. The south west Pakistan i.e. areas of Balochistan were severely affected as swarms ravaged wheat, cotton and vegetable crops.
These outbreaks happen in Pakistan when there is a surge in locust population in neighboring countries that are the potential habitat of the species. The recent attacks started somewhere in the Middle East; Yemen to Saudi Arabia and Oman and then towards Iran. From Iran a huge population of these locusts invaded regions of Balochistan in Chaghi and Pasni from where they moved to Sindh and returned back to the coastal areas of Balochistan last month to find new breeding grounds.
In July 2019, according to media reports, crop fields in Nushki, Khuzdar, Washuk, Awaraan and Lasbela were hugely spoiled by the swarms and an economic loss of Rs 40 to 50 crores was estimated. It is noteworthy to mention here that these areas are already Malnutrition struck and farmers here are often in debt.
The control teams of the Department of Plant Protection since March 2019 have surveyed and treated an area of 131,130 hectares out of which 5,000 hectares have been treated by aerial sprays in Balochistan and Sindh. About 115,455 litres of pesticides have been sprayed which effectively reduced damage to cultivated land by limiting the locusts’ movements to deserts, while control operations are still in progress in the infested areas. In November, the National Assembly Standing Committee on National Food Security has briefed that over Rs 500 million has been allocated to minimize the attack of desert locust and 100,000 tonnes of pesticide would be imported for their control.
Currently, millions of these locusts’ grounds are present in Pakistan requiring a timely action from the concerned departments as the threat to agriculture land in Balochistan and Sindh regions of Pakistan is huge as reported by the FAO-UN. An official from the plant protection department reports that only 2 out of 21 crop spraying planes are functional that will of course not be enough to control the locust’s grounds. Hence, a speedy analysis of the loopholes in control strategy must be made to timely control the imposed threat. The recent actions on behalf of the ministries are upright but the velocity and planning seem to be somewhat sluggish.