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Large swarms of desert locusts, a species of locusts identified by their short horns, made their way into the Indian plains last month, threatening to wipe away large scales of crops and farm produce. The skies in Gurgaon, a neighbouring city to India's capital New Delhi, were filled with huge swarms of locusts that are reportedly making their way through the state of Haryana and onto the state of Uttar Pradesh.

Many states in the northern region of India have been put on high alert, particularly to save large amounts of farmlands from being destroyed.

The Agriculture Department of the Delhi government on Saturday, 27 June, issued an advisory on measures "to contain and control the menace of desert locusts" in the state. 

District magistrates in the state and related authorities have been advised to remain on high alert and coordinate with local fire departments to make arrangements to protect crops and fields from large-scale destruction with the use of the following pesticides mixed in the prescribed quantities.

  • Malathion 50% EC
  • Malathion 25% WP
  • Chloropyrifos 20% EC
  • Chloropyrifos 50% EC

The above-mentioned insecticides have been advised to be used with the prescribed amount of dosage per hectare of the farmland diluted with 500 litres of water.

Homeowners in urban cities with plants in their garden or balcony have been advised to cover them with plastic sheets to avoid locusts from sitting and feeding on them.

  1. Alternative locust management techniques
  2. Are locusts dangerous to humans?
  3. How locusts pose a threat to humans
  4. Doctors for Locust attack in India: How large scale crop destruction may lead to a hunger problem during an ongoing pandemic

Previous methods to control locust swarms have been rudimentary and hopeful at best, rather than being a carefully thought out management strategy, with burning tyres, catching large numbers of swarms in big nets or digging trenches to protect crops from destruction. However, the use of pesticides has been the only method that has been somewhat successful in controlling this menace.

According to the Agriculture Department of the Government of Victoria, Australia, effective management of locust swarms includes some of the following steps, particularly for organic crops:

  • Act early: Stopping locusts from attacking crops has to be done when they are at the hopping stage and before they can fly. The locusts that have entered the Indian subcontinent have been reported to be young and may be stopped with this technique. Adult flying locusts can operate quickly, hence treating locusts when they are young or have just hatched is important.
  • Treatment methods: In addition to the list of insecticides approved by the Delhi government in treating locusts, there are other treatment methods including treating them with biological insecticides that contain Metarhizium anisopliae fungus for organic crops. 

The earlier instance of locust attack that spread through the northern regions of India last month had been reported as the worst in 26 years, with large armies of the pests threatening to wipe out acres upon acres of farm produce, which could be particularly concerning in the middle of a global pandemic.

The country, much like many others in the world, is battling the COVID-19 pandemic since the first case in the country was reported back in January 2020. The Indian government issued a nationwide lockdown starting 25 March which continued into the month of May, before authorities began reopening certain parts and industries in the country to ease the financial burden on citizens and businesses.

Despite this, India has become the fourth-worst-hit country in the world due to the pandemic, having seen more than half a million infections and over 15,000 deaths across the country. 

Various states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Gujarat have been severely hit by the desert locusts that typically make their way eastwards from Africa and entered India through Pakistan in the west. Even parts of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi have been hit by the worst locust attack in years.

According to reports, as much as five lakh hectares of crop fields across the state of Rajasthan have already been destroyed, and the resulting destruction in other states could lead to large-scale food security problems and widespread hunger in the country in the months to come.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), locusts are not known to attack humans and there is no evidence that can point to them being carriers of infectious diseases that are harmful to humans. However, the dangers to agriculture and crops are rather evident.

Several countries, in fact, have taken to collecting locusts with large-sized nets or by other means for human consumption. Locusts are eaten in several cultures and countries. They are boiled, roasted, stir-fried or eaten simply after being dried. Although locusts are rich in protein, recent developments suggest they are not fit for human consumption any more.

This is because the existing strategy to prevent locust swarms from ravaging crops has been with the liberal use of chemical pesticides, which can make the insects toxic, and therefore dangerous for human consumption.

Swarms of locusts have been responsible for laying human habitats to waste through their voracious appetite since the times of ancient Egypt. The species of desert locusts are particularly harmful to crops as they inhabit an area of about six million square miles spread across Africa, the Middle East and the rest of Asia. During a locust plague, however, these swarms can swell and spread across twice that area and ravage crops with devastating speed.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the FAO estimate that a swarm of locusts that is spread across 1km can contain about 40 million locusts, which can consume the amount of food meant for 35,000 people. It is why government authorities have issued high alerts and recommended the use of pesticides to prevent such large-scale devastation.

According to estimates of the FAO, as many as a million people in the country have been pushed towards hunger due to the locust infestation this year already, with the danger of it increasing as the arriving monsoons are also a sign of locusts breeding and laying more eggs for the season ahead.

On 21 May 2020, the World Bank approved a US$500 million effort to help countries in Africa and the Middle East battling the locust swarms that are threatening food security of the countries and livelihoods of millions of people living in those regions.

Countries have also not been able to manage or anticipate locust plagues to prevent large-scale destruction particularly due to the unpredictable nature of locust swarms. According to the FAO, there is no evidence to suggest a pattern to locust attacks as they tend to develop intermittently.

Dr. Priyank Pal

Dr. Priyank Pal

सामान्य चिकित्सा

Dr. Balamurugan

Dr. Balamurugan

सामान्य चिकित्सा

Dr. Anupam Mahajan

Dr. Anupam Mahajan

सामान्य चिकित्सा

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