7 April 2020
Even as India struggles to emerge from the economic cost of the lockdown owing to the Corona virus pandemic, a blizzard of devastating bugs—Locusts--descend from the skies. They are a farmer’s worst nightmare.
Last year in December Indian states of Gujarat and Rajasthan, had reported locust infestations. So far locust swarms have been recorded in close to 50,000 hectares in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and if these swarms continue to increase as the monsoon arrives, it can cause serious damage to crops. In fact, locust invasion this year in India is regarded as the worst in 27 years!
Farmers in several states in India like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh now fear widespread crop losses if these fast-spreading locusts swarm are not brought under control before the arrival of the monsoon rains—which spurs sowing of rice, sugarcane, cotton and other summer crops in the country.
Farmers on the Maharashtra-Gujarat border have upped vigil, especially during night, on their fields for a potential locust attack. Desert locusts recently swarmed into Chikhaldara, Morshi, Warud, Katol, and Ramtek areas in the Vidarbha region. In the latest update, locusts are expected to enter the areas adjacent to the Gujarat border, like Palghar, from the neighbouring state.
Frustrated farmers have begun banging plates in several villages; some are blowing whistles and some are even seen throwing stones to scare the locusts away. Other farmers have resorted to lighting fires to smoke locusts out of trees on streets, in fruit orchards and in the fields.
Locusts by the billions have begun descending on parts of Kenya--the worst outbreak in 70 years. Small planes laden with pesticides are spraying over affected areas, which according to experts is the only way for effective control.
Swarms of a desert locust have begun destroying banana, rubber and other crops in parts of plantation-dominated districts of the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu. Farmers in Poovankodu and Viyanur have already begun reporting on the locust invasion. Farmers in Kanyakumari district bordering Kerala also claimed that locusts had affected the banana and rubber crops.
Some scientists have suggested extreme wet weather seen during the 2018 and 2019 dipoles could be linked to climate change. Insect responses to global climate change are presently part of a numerous global studies. Insects are sensitive to climate warming.
Scientists claim that a pattern of warming Indian Ocean can be the trigger for the present locust attack. A meteorologist may refer to this phenomenon as the Indian Ocean Dipole. Here the western and eastern parts of the ocean, warm at different levels and this tends to have an impact in inviting excessive rains to India and Western Asia.
Their responses to increasing temperatures can be grouped into three major categories
1) Expansion of ranges,
2) Shifts in phenology—which is a study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena
3) Developmental rate acceleration.
For almost two centuries India has had the experience in dealing with locust swarms. India’s Locust Warning Organisation (LWO), which is today leading from the front in the battle against the infestation, was established 81 years ago during British rule.
The net system involved holding a “capricious” bag and swinging it around fields, trapping young locusts in the process.
During the British rule , one of the key ideas was to destroy the breeding grounds and locust larvae before they could fly. Several techniques were employed for this purpose. One of them was the use of oil-tarred screens to kill locusts (also known as Cyprus screen, because it was popular in that country). They did not prove effective.
This method involved farmers using a blanket to trip locusts resting on bushes.
In this insect-control technique, fallow lands will be plowed where locusts were resting: the escaping insects became an easy target for birds.
Locusts have high feed conversion efficiencies. The insects convert low-value carbohydrates like twigs and vegetation into body mass and high-quality food or feed. They contain Omega-3, iron, zinc, Vitamin C, folic acid, B12 and chitin, without cholesterol or saturated fat, antibiotics and hormones. Protein in locust meals exceed fish meal and reduces costs substantially. Eating insects are considered tasty and nutritious in countries including Thailand, Mexico and Uganda but Americans are less enthusiastic about eating bugs.