The locust menace

Fayaz A Soomro

A large swarm can consume 1.8 million metric tons of edible stuff, equivalent to food for 81 million people

The world community is already undergoing through a pandemic outbreak. With the recent locust outbreak, the life on earth has turned into a jigsaw puzzle within a crisis. Though, international community is on the road to meaningful engagement round the clock, and to get rid of Coronavirus as soon as possible. As the pandemic has capacity to challenge economic strength of human society in general. Both the India and Pakistan have also had few meetings in a bid to deal with a common enemy. The United Nation, the World Bank and many other international organizations are providing financial and technical support to locust affected regions on fast track approach. Similarly, the regional collective response of the SAARC and ASEAN countries is to be expected to bring peace and prosperity in the respective regions. The attack of locust is a common attack on the regional peace and development, hence requires collective wit to deal effectively. Under a National Command and Control Policy, a locust-surveillance and control operation mechanism in collaboration with all stakeholders is required to wage a war against Locust outbreak.

The cash crops like cotton, wheat, maize and many other leading crops are considered economic strength, but the recent attack attenuated the overall economic strength. Though, attack of locust in the region is not a new phenomenon, but the country has had an experience to cope the situation. Only timely response can change the directions of crisis ahead. The common inhabit of swarm has covered one-fifth of earth’s land surface with a capacity of threatening the economic livelihood of one tenth of human across the globe. Locust attack on agricultural land of East Africa, Middle East and Asia, threatening food and livelihood equates to COVID attack on human society. It is likely to usher food issues with trickle down effect on entire socioeconomic life cycle.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), reported locust invasion rapidly growing in Pakistan with 60pc in Baluchistan, 25pc Sindh, 15 pc in Punjab and overall 38 percent area countrywide. The swarm soars with 150 km traveling distance in a day with devouring capacity of food in a day as many as 35000 persons. While a large swarm can consume 1.8 million metric tons of edible stuff, equivalent to 81 million people food. Consequent to current outbreak, Pakistan, taking positive measures, has also invited International community to help during the pandemic, coinciding other climatic issues. The specie is a voracious eater, and has already devastated Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and now headed to South Asia inter alia Pakistan. If unbridled migration of species went uncontrolled, has the potential to cut at least 2 pc economic growth of the country by the end of year. The roots of species taking journey cross-border foraging for food needs scientific investigation to block its mobility towards hotspots in the region. The main factor behind key driving force of the current outbreak is weather conditions generating strong cyclones, heavy flash floods due to heavy rains in the Arabian Peninsula. The eco-friendly environment impetus healthy agri-productivity which entice ideals conditions for Locust to take a journey.

Though, favorable weather conditions helped to spread, but the situation can be curbed with timely response. The species enroots to weather friendly areas enriched with green land. It has the capacity to change its behavior according to desired requirements, and adjust with their habitat with increasing widespread hatching. Research reveals that the most voracious species is the desert locust, it has capacity to affect huge area of agricultural land on earth endangering livelihood of 1/10th world population. More than 65 world’s poor countries can be immediate victims of the locust attack. The UN reportedly informed that swarms show severe infestation in 25 years in Ethiopia and Somalia, 26 years in India and the worst 70 years in Kenya affecting almost 23 countries from Pakistan to Tanzania. Indeed it moves in a large crowd and needs to tackle with large strategies ensuring least chances of frequent recurrence in future.

It is time to give a wakeup call to the Desert Locust Policy Organizations, the Agricultural Experts, the Academia, the Plant Protection Agencies, the Locust affected regions, International Donor Community and respective Field-Researchers to undertake the responsibility with possible panacea to pandemic. The current disaster has directly proportional relationship with climate crisis. The Covid-19 and locust pandemic is offshoot of the climate change which requires policy paradigms at international level at a war footing. If left going on, the number would mount to 20-fold increase in its population by the end of June 2020. In the search of defeating locust through widely used insecticide chemicals; could be harmful to human and other species life on earth. Protecting entire ecology with prudent targets is the science to delve deeper.

In addition to World Bank’s flexible financial and technical support to countries affect with outbreak, the researchers keeping in mind, ecotoxicology studies, is required to analyze and forecast the possible anticipated mobility rate of swarm. The insect’s anatomy is required to be studied to control the population of locusts before they breed in large numbers and endanger other species. Since, the lifespan of the locust is about 3 to 5 months which must be the target to end the growth process. Scientists believe that safe use of pesticides, bio-pesticides, using chemical aerial and ground spray in the agricultural fields reduces its wide-spread in the new regions. The precautionary measure must ensure agricultural product, human life and most importantly fertility of land to have sustainable productivity in future.

Pakistan’s agriculture is invaded during November 2019; ruining cash crops by the current locust outbreak. Reportedly, 30pc of cash crops are severely affected with irrecoverable loss due to locust outbreak and heavy rains. The farmers, who are actual victim, usually depend upon crop profit, need help to pay off loans to avoid further losses. Before it keeps disturbing economic fabric, it is high time to adopt national and international best practices in befitting manners to mitigate the effects of disaster with possible interventions such as applying garlic spray, natural predators by cultivation of long grass and ensuring authentic future strength to cope with the earth’s pandemic. The down streaming consequences of the pandemic, in addition to weakening economic strength of the country, includes drastic impact on food crisis threatening livelihoods, staple crops, livestock productions, asset damage, eroding people’s hard earned savings with pushing factor to extreme poverty.

Perhaps the current era is the era of human wit. It is time to save the society from recurring locust breed to prevent fellow humans and other species permanent part of the planet earth. Under a National Command and Control Policy, strategic framework over locust-surveillance and control management in collaboration with all stakeholders, is required to wage a war against Locust outbreak. The Policy Paradigm accompanied with studying locust behavior, spray techniques, financing mechanism, potential alternatives and preventive emergencies with modern means of technology is required to improve institutional capacity to promote sustainable environment in the agrarian society of Pakistan. The future rest with prudent, pragmatic and research-based fact fullness policies as the COVID-19 and Locust Attack are grim reminders of climate change’s bitter reality.

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