Locusts’ attack affected a whopping 1,68,55086 lakh hectares of crops in Rajasthan and Gujarat in 2019-20 even as the extent of damage in Punjab is yet to be ascertained. The swarms of locusts from Iran and Pakistan that have invaded farms in parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan since December has resulted in an estimated loss of Rs 100 crore and nearly 1-1.5 lakh farmers have been affected so far. The number of affected farmers could increase in the coming days.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations has flagged the “threat” of hatching and band formation in Southern Iran, while breeding is expected to start in Southwest Pakistan in its latest forecast, posing a threat to the entire Southwest Asia including southern Pakistan and Western India. According to Ministry of Agriculture, the FAO alert is for the coming season, starting June 2020.
In a reply to the Rajya Sabha pertaining to damage of crops due to locust attack, Minister of State for Agriculture, Kailash Choudhury, Rajasthan government has reported 1,49, 821 hectare crops affected from locust attack in 2019-20. Of them, damaged crop area of 33 percent and more has reported on 1, 34,959 hectare. Gujarat has reported 18,737 hectare crop affected due to locust attack. Of them, 13,881 hectare reported damage to 33 percent and more in 2019-20. The issue of locust attack has been raised by BJP MPs in the Rajya Sabha during question hours and urged the centre to send teams to assess the damages in this regard. BJP MPs also demanded compensation to farmers whose crops have been damaged in locust attack.
The Rajasthan government has reported that the revenue department assessed the damage from locust attack and an allocation of Rs 90.20 crore has been made under State Disaster Response Fund for payment of compensation to farmers. Out of this, Rs 86.21 crore has been paid to 54,150 farmers.
“But the damages are more than it has expected as the Rajasthan government has urged the Centre to declare the locust attacks as a national calamity since 12 districts are affected.,” said officials of agriculture ministry.
Similarly, the Gujarat Government has disbursed Rs 32.76 crore to 11, 500 farmers so far. According to the Punjab Government, a small swarm of locusts was spotted in few patches and this has been adequately dealt with. Till date, no loss to any crop has been reported in this current rabi season. Haryana also reported some locust attacks in villages bordering Rajasthan and no crop damage so far.
The Locusts Warning Organisation (LWO) of the Ministry of Agriculture estimated that around 3.50-4 lakh hectare crops in various districts of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh have been affected in 2019-20. The damage caused by locust attacks in 2019-20 is believed to be one of the worst in India. There are 4 locust species found in India, of which the desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) is the most important pest species. On average a small locust desert swarm “eats as much food in one day as about 10 elephants, 25 camels or 2500 people, the LWO says.
The FAO of the United Nations had said that adult groups and swarms of desert locusts were expected to arrive in southwest Pakistan and southeast Iran during the next few weeks. Up to that point, India had treated nearly 1 800 ha and Pakistan more than 20 000 ha of land area, it had said then.
Locust attacks are a seasonal phenomenon in Gujarat and Rajasthan. The current spell is not the first time it’s occurred in 2019. Since May this year, around 10 swarms have entered India from across the international border. However, the scale of the current episode is earning it the distinction of being the biggest locust attack in these two states since 1993-94. That year, the LWO says the total damage amounted to Rs 7.18 lakh. But that is far below the all-time record damage caused by locusts in India, between 1926 and 1931, which is estimated at Rs 10 crore.