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Pakistani farmers worried about livelihoods, food as locusts swarm fields

They say govt failed to act on time

SAMAA | - Posted: May 28, 2020 | Last Updated: 1 year ago
Posted: May 28, 2020 | Last Updated: 1 year ago

Photo: AFP

Pakistani farmers are worried about their livelihood as invading armies of locusts continue to devour their crops in Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab.

The infestation is reported to have caused billions of dollars of damage and is expected to create long-term food shortages.

Many farmers have even started beating drums to scare them away but it hasn’t been successful. In Rajanpur, the locusts have attacked cotton, wheat, tomato, and sunflower fields, while cotton, rice, chickpea fields have been destroyed in Rahim Yar Khan. They have swarmed and destroyed cherry, apple, apricot and watermelon fields in Kalat.

Thirty-one of Balochistan’s 33 districts have been invaded by locusts. The government spokesperson has said that they are spraying pesticides but farmers claim that action has been taken too late.

Pakistan was already battling the coronavirus, now the locust invasion has become another major problem for us, said Sindh Agricultural Minister Ismail Rahoo.

“This happened only because the federal government failed to do aerial spraying in time,” he claimed, adding that 12 districts in Sindh have been affected so far. “The Centre assured us that all steps will be taken but they weren’t.”

Agriculture is important for the people of this country as more than 60% people depend on it, he added.

“We had predicted earlier that locusts will cause damage to our crops so we prepared a National Action Plan and included other organisations too,” Plant Protection DG Falak Naz told SAMAA TV.

The relevant provinces were told to take action. We have dedicated 400 spraying cars in the four provinces with the help of Centre and Pakistan Army, while 1,100 teams have been formed, he said.

The worst-affected areas remain Pishin, Kalat and Qilla Abdulla but now the locusts are migrating towards Sindh and then on to India.

He explained that the problem with spraying insecticides is that they have limited time to do so. “We can’t spray in the morning because they are very difficult to locate. So, the best time is the one to two hours we have during daybreak.”

Locusts are considered to be one of the most destructive insects for farmers and they feed on almost all types of crops. It has been estimated that a large swarm can eat as much as 35,000 people in a day. The insects also breed rapidly and are able to cover great distances, covering up to 200 kilometres every day.

The Pakistani government had declared a national emergency this year after locusts attacked winter crops. The first swarm reportedly came from the United Arab Emirates in 2019, and now it has come from Iran.

The Food and Agriculture Organization had warned of a locust invasion in the country. “Iran and Pakistan are especially prone as locust breeding is taking place in these areas, also due to the wet winter this year,” it said in a report. “In Pakistan, 38% of the area [60% in Balochistan, 25% in Sindh and 15% in Punjab] are breeding grounds for the desert locust, whereas the entire country is under the threat of invasion if the desert locust is not contained in the breeding regions.”

Prime Minister Imran Khan has taken notice of the growing problem and summoned a meeting over it. Specialists are expected to brief him over the total damage so far and the steps taken against the invasion.

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