By Mayank Bhardwaj
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Battling its worst desert locust outbreak in decades, India is ordering new equipment to control the swarms before summer crop-sowing gathers pace in the middle of this month.
India has brought the locusts under control at 399 locations in five states and has placed an order to buy 60 new insecticide spraying machines, two government sources said.
Authorities have used specialist vehicles and fire engines to spray insecticides in an area of 55,542 hectares in the western states of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra, central state of Madhya Pradesh and Punjab, and Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in the north.
The government also plans to buy five helicopter-mounted spray systems to curb the fast-spreading swarms by mid-June when monsoon rains help farmers boost rice, cane, corn, cotton and soybean sowing, according to the sources, who are directly involved in formulating plans to tackle the scourge.
Nearly half of the 60 insecticide spraying machines will arrive this week, they said.
India needs to stop the infestation from spreading further to ensure the swarms do not devour summer crops.
"We've been rather lucky that we've got a week or two to get our acts together and stop locusts before summer sowing gathers momentum," said Bhagirath Choudhary, director of the South Asia Biotech Centre, a non-profit scientific society.
The locust infestation has not caused significant damage so far due to the lean season - the gap between the previous harvest and the next planting season.
The farm ministry should be allowed to use drones to spray insecticides on vast swathes of northern, western and central plains - the main farm belt, Choudhary said.
(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Giles Elgood)