Locusts in Sindh: Farmers unhappy over government efforts


By Dr Abdul Razak Shaikh,

Locusts meaning in Urdu is tiddi, many districts of Sindh have reported the spread of locusts, species of short-horned grasshoppers which are threating many agricultural crops.

Swarms of locusts have spread to six districts of Sindh after initially attacking Khairpur, sparking fears of large-scale crop devastation in barrage areas.

Farmers had to bear losses of a hundred thousand rupees due to crop loss.

The Sindh government is taking measures to prevent crops from being attacked by locusts.

Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah visited the affected areas to inspect the damage. He said a campaign would be started to help farmers out of this problem.

Helpline centres have also been established on a district levels and insecticides have been sprayed in areas likely to get affected. However, there were no precautionary measures taken.

Reports, photographs and videos of locusts flying and resting around agricultural fields emerged from Dadu, Matiari, Jamshoro, Nawabshah, Naushehro Feroze and Sanghar districts. Locusts can destroy the agricultural belt of Sindh if they entered Mirpurkhas, Tando Allahyar, Matiari, Hyderabad and other districts on the left bank of Indus River.

The agricultural workers voiced concern that if the authorities failed to control the insects, the agriculture sector would suffer huge financial losses of billions of rupees. Locust attacks are increasing each passing day and urged the government to carry out aerial and ground operations to kill the insects.

According to farmers, most of whom grow dates, cotton, lentils and fodder crops, the locust invasion occurred in their area two months back and the infestation has continued.

No one had ever observed such a phenomenon in recent decades, they said. The farmers opined the government was using security threat as an excuse for their lack of performance in remote areas.

Their [locusts] number has multiplied enormously destroying all big and small orchards and agricultural fields. But, the government seems least bothered, said, farmer.

The desert locust is potentially the most dangerous of the locust pests because of the ability of swarms to fly rapidly across great distances, according to experts.

Sindh Abadger Board has asked the federal government to launch an international appeal for help. He was of the view that the Ministry of National Food Security and Research’s Department of Plant Protection (DPP) was unlikely to be successful in tackling locusts in Sindh as it had already failed to control the insects in plain areas of Balochistan.

Monsoon the season is around the corner in which locusts multiply faster, hence an international appeal needs to be made while talking to writer.

The representative of Sindh Abadgar Board lamented that the first generation of locusts in Balochistan could not be controlled by the DPP and now the second generation had invaded Khairpur, Dadu, Nawabshah, Matiari, Sanghar and other districts. He cautioned that locusts might cause extensive damage as they had now entered areas heavily cultivated with vegetables.

Different District Management officers have written request to the government of Sindh for taking necessary arrangements. The administration revealed that the district administration would conduct a comprehensive survey in the affected areas to gauge the quantum of losses to crops and farmers.

Locusts, which caused huge damage to Pakistan’s agriculture back in the 1950s, 1960s and 1990s have once again swarmed an area of 300,000 square kilometres comprising Balochistan’s desert area of the Cholistan, Rahim Yar Khan, Bahawalpur, Thar desert, Mirpurkhas, Umerkot, Nara Desert, Khairpur and Sukkur to the Indian border.

When seen in a historical perspective, these areas are prone to locust attack, said DPP Technical Director while talking. Climatically, these species require a sandy area with moisture where they can feed and breed. These insects prefer to live in desert areas but if they fail to find a suitable environment, they turn towards crops. Last epidemics of locusts were witnessed in 1993 and 1997 in Pakistan. There were other small-scale attacks as well but owing to well-coordinated efforts the country was able to thwart the threat without suffering any significant damage.

This time, the locusts first appeared in Sudan and Eritrea in Africa from where they migrated to Yemen and Saudi Arabia and reached Iran where they hit an area of 400,000 square km, After that, the insects advanced towards the coastal belt of Pasni and Turbat in Pakistan.

The locusts continued to enter Pakistan from Iran as the neighbouring country was unable to fully contain the pest and recent rains throughout Pakistan provided them with a favourable environment, which aggravated the situation. DPP was surveying and conducting operations in Turbat, Dasht, Gwadar, Jiwani, Lasbela, Khuzdar, Uttal, Kharan, Dalbandin, Washiq and other places. A DPP team is also working in the affected areas of Sindh.

Technical Director DDP said that the ministry had deployed an aircraft for aerial spray and introduced a training programme to train people how to combat the pest attack.

The ground control team has ‘treated’ an area of about 2,400 hectares in Thari Mirwah tehsil of Khairpur and it is still working in that area.

The technical director highlighted that the department was conducting ground operations through defender jeeps and was avoiding aerial operation because of the spray could have harmful side-effects on the humans and livestock if released in the air. We will conduct aerial operation if locusts attack a massive scale, he said. Mirpurkhas and Thar area are free from the insect while in Rahim Yar Khan, the locusts have been detected but they are few in number and crops have not been affected.

Operation should be continually needed in the whole province to save further losses of farmers.