What are locusts? Where did they come from?

Desert Locust- locally known as “Tiddi”, has invaded the western and northern states of India, causing a serious threat to the food security of the country. Desert locust belongs to the family of grasshoppers and normally live and breed in semi-arid/desert regions.

locust

Where did the locusts come from?

The origin of the locust swarms that attacked India this year can be traced to Pakistan and Iran. Locust travels in a large group, a single locust swarm can have as many as 80 million locusts. They travel thousands of miles in their short life span destroying all the crop fields coming in their way. Locust attack is one of the major reasons for hunger problems in Sub Saharan countries.

Why such huge locusts swarms this year?

Locust breed in the desert and semi-arid regions under favorable conditions, that is they require grass to lay eggs and hopper development. The main locust breeding areas in the Horn of Africa, Yemen, Oman, Southern Iran, and Pakistan’s Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. These regions received quite a heavy rainfall this year resulting in the development of grass cover. In-fact East African regions witnessed the wettest rainy season in over four decades. Cyclonic storms Mekunu and Luban had struck Oman and Yemen respectively that year, which resulted in the ideal condition for locust breeding in the region. If left uncontrolled, a single swarm can increase 20 times of its original population in the first generation itself.

How did they reach India?

These locusts started arriving in Rajasthan around mid-April, much ahead of the normal July-October season. Locust came to India mainly in search of food from the Balochistan and Sindh province of Pakistan. However, the cultivation in Rajasthan could not satisfy their demands and they started invading regions of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. LWO estimates that at present there are three or four active swarms in Rajasthan while Madhya Pradesh has two to three of them. The Government of India has reportedly offered help to Pakistan in the control of Locust attack which they rejected. Locusts have caused wide-scale destruction of food crops in Pakistan which have even forced the government to declare a national emergency in the country.

India’s response to the locust attack.

Various Central and State agencies are working day in and out to control the locust attack that has posed a threat to the Kharif Crop. Efforts are being made to kill the swarms before breeding. Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh state authorities are on alert. Gallons of pesticides have been sprayed while farms beat drums to drive away the locusts from the fields. Control rooms have been established in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab to track the movement of a locust swarm. Authorities in Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Telangana, and Karnataka are too on alerts as UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned that the pests could reach as far east as Bihar and Odisha in the coming weeks.