The year 2020 was a ride into the most frightening haunted house of all times. As the year started with the outburst of the Coronavirus pandemic with places shut down due to the country wide lockdown and the economy dropping steadily. The agriculture sector being the major source of income for the country had also seen a downfall because of the same, and the danger further increased when the country faced the desert locust attack. What exactly are these desert locusts?
These desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) is a species of locusts who look like grasshoppers but are much bigger in size. Unlike grasshoppers, who when increase in numbers, don’t pose much danger to us, but when these locusts increase in number, they change their behaviour, appearances and habit. They have the capacity to roughly consume its own weight of fresh food per day which is two grams every day and a very small part of an average swarm which is about one tonne of them can eat the same amount of food one day as about 2,500 people or 25 camels or 10 elephants. Desert locusts are mainly found in Africa, through Arabia and West Asia, extending into parts of South Asia.
Ironically, these locusts, which are known to destroy the crops and eat our food, are eaten as food themselves in some parts of the world. Like Cambodia where a peanut is stuffed inside one and added some oil and salt to taste and grilled. It is also eaten in parts of Uganda, where the legs and wings of these locusts are removed and fried with chopped onions, with adding some curry powder. Desert locusts are also served as food in parts of Philippines, where it is cooked in adobe style, which is with vinegar, bay leaf, whole black pepper and garlic in soy sauce.
These desert locusts can cover hundreds of kilometres in one day and can fly at a speed of 16-19 kmph and of course specialise in destroying large hectares of crop fields. The locusts have more chances of breeding during the monsoon season. And they are known to form after cyclones cause heavy rainfall in Oman’s deserts, conducive to desert locust breeding. In the last decade, cyclones in the Indian Ocean have become more frequent, leading to more chances of desert locust breeding.
The population that these locusts possessed when they entered India was 80 Crores! And not only this, but they can multiply themselves five times in just a month. Making it almost impossible for the farmers to protect their land(s) of crop. The condition further worsened because of the season which was a big factor in the role of increasing their population.
They flew from Africa and followed the route from there to Yemen to Iran to Pakistan, where it affected almost 60 districts in all provinces and created a havoc and the worst locust attack in 27 years. These locusts entered India through Pakistan in the month of May and largely effected the crops of the states like Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Delhi, Haryana and the western parts of Uttar Pradesh.
Globally, Kenya reported its worst locust outbreak in 70 years, while Ethiopia and Somalia are called it the worst in 25 years. Whereas, this was the worst attack in the last 27 years in India. Even the United Nations stated that there was a severe risk to Indian agriculture because of these attacks even before their arrival. Usually, we face locust attacks every year in the month of July to October but this year, it arrived much early with a bigger population and risk.
As per the reports, it was estimated that nearly five lakh hectares of crops spread over Rajasthan had been destroyed. And even 17 districts of Uttar Pradesh along with 16 out of 52 districts in Gujarat being affected, making them the most affected states.
Civic workers sprayed gallons of insecticides and farmers beat “thalis” and played loud music to drive away swarms of locusts but almost nothing seemed impossible. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has recommended the use of Metarhizium anisopliae which is a type of fungus which can kill locusts by growing inside their bodies. It is cheaper than other methods, more effective and also easy to store.
The statistics of various states show and prove that the state of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh have come out to be the most prepared and strong against fighting this locusts attack, with Uttar Pradesh issuing directions beforehand to the various districts and establishing and forming various control rooms to track the movements of the locusts and to stop them from destroying the crop fields. The Uttar Pradesh government also conducted overnight operations to clear the swarms of locusts in various districts. Even the Punjab government established control rooms at various districts. The government had sanctioned a sum of Rs 1 crore for containing these locusts.
The other states did take some initiative but better infrastructure and planning could have been done.Also, the Central Government is to be blamed as well on not taking proper precautions beforehand to avoid the destruction to much extent. India was already warned by the United Nations about the attack and was evident of the fact on how dangerous the group of swarms had been to the other countries. The government could have taken some more precautionary steps to have avoided the destruction in a better manner. And instead of using loud music or banging on “thalis”, some better ways and proper pre planning could be used on time. Maybe it’s high time to learn that “a stitch on time saves nine”. This idiom also should be kept in mind by all of us around the globe. It’s high time we realise that the environment is getting depleted at such high rate and how important it is for us to be aware and take necessary steps to save the environment. The growing global warming and pollution has resulted in the rise in number of cyclones which in return resulted in the increase in chances of these locusts breeding and the destruction of our food crops and environment as well. The growing pollution is not only affecting the environment but is also possessing a danger to our agriculture. Be it the low level of rainfall during the monsoons or unseasonal rains, the year wise streak of droughts or the growing cyclones. It’s high time for us to be aware of our situation and stop taking advantage of our Mother Earth.