Maharashtra to step up vigil against locusts in border districts

Parthasarathi Biswas
Maharashtra to step up vigil against locusts in border districts

A desert locust is seen feeding on a plantation in a grazing land on the outskirt of Dusamareb in Galmudug region, Somalia, December 22, 2019. (Reuters Photo: Feisal Omar)

Alarmed by the invasion of desert locusts in neighbouring Gujarat and Rajasthan, Maharashtra’s Agriculture department has decided to keep a close vigil against potential attacks by the pests in the state, including stepping up surveillance in districts bordering Gujarat.

Desert locusts refer to the grasshoppers which cover large distances, denuding vegetation across vast tracks of land. Locusts normally breed in the Horn of Africa, causing great damage during seasonal migration. Locusts have three breeding phases, with their numbers increasing during each phase.

Swarms of locusts invade various African countries, with one coming close to Pakistan, which led to attacks in India as well. India had last reported a locust upsurge in 1997, when four swarms had invaded parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat.

During their solitary phase, the insects are not harmful, but when they enter the gregarious phase and move in swarms, they pose a great danger to the food security of countries.

Read | Why, despite efforts, the chain of periodic locust invasions is yet to be broken in India

Unusually heavy rains in 2019 had extended the breeding period of locusts, which had resulted in widescale breeding. Cyclones in May and October brought heavy and unusual rains in the Arabian peninsula and had led to the largescale breeding going undetected. Between February and June, spring breeding occurred in Yemen and Iran. Similarly, between June and December, swarms had entered the Indo-Pakistan border from Iran, and up to three generations were present due to an extended monsoon. Swarms in Yemen have since started moving to North Somalia, Ethiopia and other parts of Africa.

Since December last year, parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat have seen the invasion of such swarms. The extent of the damage is yet to be ascertained.

Control operations were carried out in over 11,290 hectares in these states, with the current surge expected to die down soon.

Under the CropSap program, the state government monitors pests such as Fall Army Worm, Pink Bollworm and others which threaten crops in the state. “Locusts have never invaded the state, but given the alarming situation in Pakistan and the invasion along border districts, we have decided to include locusts in our observation systems. Districts along the Gujarat coast are going to be surveyed closely,” the officer said.