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BW Businessworld

Locust Swarm - A Race Between Mankind And Insects

Locust swarm has grown due to various reasons but it has moved forward for one and only reason that is food. There may be various ways to curb this menace but a long term policy is must. BW Businessworld investigate historical development and talk to people who are subject experts.

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Rambadan, a farmer from Meja town in Prayagraj says that he had witnessed the locust swarm in 1990’s when he was a young child as he has witnessed it once again. It’s a living creature and it need nutrition, suggest agronomy experts. A good vegetation and a better crop yield never made us think that this regular locust swarm can become serious, they added.
It has been estimated that in India damage to crops caused by locusts was about Rs 10 crore during 1926–31 plague cycle. During 1940–46 and 1949–55 locust plague cycles, the damage was estimated at Rs 2 crore each and it was Rs. 50.00 lakh during the last locust plague cycle (1959–62). Although no locust plague cycles have been observed after 1962, however, during 1978 and 1993, large scale upsurges were reported.
An expert of the subject Vijay Sardana says, “ Nature plays a big role to it but we should have an eye on it during latest development" ! His remarks have potential indication to the episodes on locusts swarm that can eat as much food as 10 elephants or 2500 humans can eat. Locust warning organization (LWO) is working for India since early 20th century. World Bank group expert say that 2018 cyclone in Arabian peninsula had triggered growth of these locusts.

But it's also evident that like us, locusts are also nature's creation and they need vegetation to survive. The Indira Gandhi Canal reached to drylands of Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Churu etc in 90s and 1993 was the year when episode of locusts swarm occurred it's a perfect example. An FCI loader in prayagraj says ' Locusts never came to our godowns, they march towards west and they returned soon'. South West Uttar Pradesh districts are not well known for horticulture and grain production either. Sandeep Malhotra MD of IFFCO Kisan has his own view to curb the impact. Considering the widespread amount of menace created by the locust it would be advised to take both physical as well as chemical precautions to deal with them in an effective way. In order to take physical measures, one should dig trenches where they can either drop the locusts or beat the hoppers along the branches' says Malhotra. More innovative ideas are required but do they last to curb a biological condition like locusts?

A priest in trance-Yamuna river temple of Prayagraj gives example of Mahabharata the Hindu text where Karna threatens prince Arjuna that if "My bow will shoot arrow it won't end like locusts swarm" you better know how to stop it before it starts! If we are to believe the fact that greenery has given them chance to survive it's not baseless because India is about to witness another bountiful of crop for this Rabi season. Kharif harvest is also going to break new records. Earlier these locusts had destroyed crops of millet and Moong daal in Rajasthan. But they are part of new Agriculture practice in lands that were dry-lands earlier.

Malhotra adds, "Given the robust attack of locusts on the crops, chemical methods come handy in dealing with the locust menace. Chemicals like lambdacyhalothrin, malathion, chlorpyriphos, deltamethrin and diflubenjuros prove to be very effective and can be suggested on the basis of the farmer’s reviews."

Sardana on the other hand calls for innovative ideas to curb this menace. He says that cultivation in drylands is our need but it will naturally give locusts more chances. This is a bio hazzard and we need to deal in the same way. For instance we can use multiple layer of trees on Indo-Pak border. Such trees should be attractive to locusts and as soon as locust form swarm, a wide array of chemical spray should be used to eliminate them then and there. CD Mayee former Vice President of National Academy of Agriculture Science also believe that listed chemical should be used to eliminate the locust swarm. However supervision from experts are required to practice it, says Mayee.

Lockdown had almost stopped the agriculture practice and due to labour shortage farmers were not able to eliminate locusts swarm. Otherwise government observe this situation and takes necessary step, therefore lockdown can't be ruled out as a big reason behind forward movement of locusts. Sardana says , "If wind pattern can be considered as reason for their movement I will ask to be little practical, the locust swarm will move in the direction where they will get food".

Amid race between survival instinct of both mankind and insects , humans need to act smart. Otherwise Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana parts of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh had already faced wrath of this natural race between insects and humans where crops of more than 3.5 lakh hectares of farmland has already been destroyed and the locust swarm is still breeding within 12 week of its lifecycle. More than 100 crore rupees had been lost due to locusts swarm in 2019-20 crop season and long term planing is a must for India's growing food need.

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