A relatively small swarm of crop-eating locusts has arrived in Gujarat’s Bhuj from Somalia via Pakistan, Union agriculture ministry’s Locust Warning Organisation (LWO) said on Wednesday and added authorities were trying to prevent to it from moving to Rajasthan and other surrounding areas by spraying insecticides.
“They may have come with the winds across the Indian Ocean to the Pakistan coast and then from there to Bhuj. We will control the locust population in Bhuj. Other swarms may also travel across the ocean in the coming days. There are two possibilities—they can migrate from Somalia to Yemen and then migrate from Yemen to Pakistan and reach the border areas, the other is direct migration across the ocean,” said LWO deputy director KL Gurjar.
India has faced its worst desert locust invasions in decades this year and prompted the government to deploy helicopters and drones for spraying insecticide. The Centre has amended rules to allow state governments to use drones at night to help neutralise the locusts. The infestation has not caused much damage to crops.
The kharif, or summer-sown crops, are vulnerable but Gurjar said their efforts to control the locusts have been intensified following FAO’s warnings.
UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on Monday warned the migration of locust swarms from Somalia to their summer breeding areas along both sides of the India-Pakistan border was imminent. More swarms were likely to form in Somalia in the coming weeks and India and Pakistan have been accordingly warned.
The summer breeding has commenced along both sides of the border, where numerous swarms are present mainly in Rajasthan. Hatching and band formation will increase during July in Rajasthan and Gujarat as well as adjacent areas of Tharparkar, Nara and Cholistan deserts in Pakistan, FAO has said.
Gurjar said the breeding has begun in otherwise arid Rajasthan as the state has received good rains. “We are trying to control the population through insecticides in the mating stage before they start egg-laying. [If] we do not manage to do that, then we try to control their population in the hopper stage before they start flying. Monsoon rains and maturity of locusts in India have coincided. The locusts are yellow in colour indicating their maturity and breeding potential,” said Gurjar.
India Meteorological Department director-general M Mohapatra said the wind direction is south-westerly during the ongoing monsoon season and that is why locust migration can happen from that direction.
Desert locusts usually fly with the wind and can travel up to about 100-150 km daily, according to FAO. They regularly cross the Red Sea, a distance of around 300 km. Crossing the Indian Ocean with the help of monsoon winds is part of the natural migration cycle of desert locusts. One square-km swarm can eat as much crop as 35,000 people in terms of weight in a single day.