Locusts may not overwhelm, but India can't let guard down: FAO expert

Unless controlled effectively could reach the ‘plague’ stage when it could create havoc on crop and vegetation in several countries including India
India might not be overwhelmed by desert locusts because their current resting spots in UP, MP and Maharashtra do not provide ideal breeding grounds. Nevertheless, the country should not lower its guard as new swarms are expected to reach West Rajasthan by early July, said Keith Cressman, FAO's Secretary of The Commission for Controlling Desert Locust in South West Asia.

The new swarms will come from the Eastern part of Africa.

Cressman, who has been studying the movement of desert locusts for years in FAO and is one of its foremost experts on the pest and its behaviour, said that desert locusts aren’t very happy being in Central and Northern India as it isn’t their ideal breeding ground and will return to the familiar terrain of west Rajasthan as soon as monsoon reaches there.

He was speaking at a webinar on Locust Attack in Collaboration with Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). India is battling one of the worst desert locust outbreak in recent times. The crop-destroying swarms first attacked Rajasthan and have now spread to Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and even Maharashtra.

The latest locust attack across the world, which many are counting as amongst the worst in last several years, has passed the ‘outbreak’ stage and reached the stage of ‘upsurge’.

Unless controlled effectively could reach the ‘plague’ stage when it could create havoc on crop and vegetation in several countries including India.

Cressman said Southern India does not need to worry about locusts, as the current East-West and West to East wind pattern will hold on the locusts in Central and Northern parts of the country.  

He also discounted the possibility of locusts attacking urban Centres such as Delhi as there isn’t much to eat in urban centres.

“Locusts don’t like eating concrete and cement and hence they at best will fly over urban centres without causing much damage,” Cressman said.

He said though locusts attack have significant impact on crops and could damage livelihood of farmers in a big way, causing panic and dramatizing the situation in media does not help.

“Rajasthan to me has be extra careful as it will have to cope with locusts returning from UP and MP in search of ideal breeding grounds and also new waves that is expected to reach its western parts,” Cressman said.

He said the locusts’ swarms would henceforth follow the trajectory of monsoon winds over South-Asia that will determine its journey path from the Horn of Africa.

Cressman complimented India for having a very comprehensive and old locusts control programme and said that the problem would not have been so acute had the monsoons not extended their stay in India well into November which never allowed them to retreat back.

He also advised farmers in India not to spray chemicals by themselves and advocated active involvement of state agencies as they have right knowledge and chemicals to undertake such large-scale containment operations.

“When such large scale upsurge takes place of locusts only solution is chemical spaying but farmers too can do somethings like digging trenches around their field as when the locusts are in their hopper stage they can fall into them which then can be buried. Banging of utensils or making large sound is also an effective method to scare them,” Cressman said.

However, he said the downside of banging utensils or making large sound is that it scatters the swarms which them makes difficult to control through chemicals.

The FAO representative also had a word of caution for extensive use of drones to spray chemicals to kill locusts, which India is planning to do in a big way. Cressman said drones have not been so far used for such kind of extensive chemical spraying to kill locusts anywhere in the world and hence there should caution and the drones themselves have limited capacity to hold chemicals.

Sunita Narain, Director General for Centre for Science and Environment and eminent environmentalist who chaired the webinar said that there is a direct linkage between the locust attack and climate change and we need global leadership to address as we leave in an inter-connected world. 

DGCA says locust swarms pose threat to aircraft

Aviation regulator DGCA issued guidelines for stakeholders like pilots and engineers on how to deal with locust swarms, saying they pose a threat to aircraft in the critical landing and takeoff phase of a flight. “The impact of large numbers of locusts on the windshield is known to have impacted the pilot forward vision," the DGCA circular said.  PTI

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