Kashmir gears up to prevent locust attack

The agriculture department has constituted district-level committees in Kashmir to tackle any possible attack by the desert locust, a voracious grasshopper wreaking havoc with crops in some states.

Speaking to Greater Kashmir, director Agriculture Department Kashmir, Aijaz Andrabi said that they have geared up men and machinery in view of the situation created by the locust in many states.

“We have constituted district level committees who have been asked to be vigilant. All men and machinery are ready. If need be, our staff are ready to spray chemicals to prevent the locust from damaging crops,” he said.

Apart from the preparedness, the J&K administration has asked the twin agriculture universities of UT – SKUAST Kashmir and Jammu— to constitute a team of scientists who would analyze the pattern and ways to fight this threat.

A senior official informed that directions have been issued to the Vice-Chancellors of SKUAST Kashmir and Jammu in view of possible threat. “A team of scientists has been asked to come up with a detailed plan to tackle locust threat which has destroyed crops in nine states so far,” said a senior agriculture department official, adding that “expert advice from agricultural universities will serve as blueprint for agriculture and allied departments to deal with this challenge.”

Though experts believe that there is little possibility of locust attack in Kashmir given that the Valley is a low-temperature zone surrounded by mountains, the agriculture department has constituted a locust committee tasked to gear up men and machinery for spraying pesticides to fight the locust attack.

On Thursday, Principal Secretary, Agriculture Production Department, Navin K. Choudhary, had asked the agriculture and allied departments to maintain high alert and take pre-emptive measures to foil any possible locust attack in the UT.

Threat to aircrafts

Meanwhile, aviation regulator DGCA Friday issued guidelines for stakeholders including

pilots and engineers on how to deal with locust swarms, saying they pose threat to aircrafts in the critical landing and takeoff phase.

India is battling the worst desert locust invasion in more than 21 years. The crop-destroying swarms first attacked Rajasthan and have now spread to Punjab, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

“Generally, locusts are found at lower levels and therefore pose a threat to aircraft in the critical landing and takeoff phase of the flight. Almost all air intake ports of the aircraft will be prone to ingestion in large numbers, if the aircraft flies through a swarm (areas like engine inlet, air-conditioning pack inlet etc.),” the regulator said in its circular.

Locusts can eat its own body weight in food — around 2 gm — and fly over 150 km in a day, riding the wind to ease the strain of long flights.

If the conditions are right, millions of locusts gather into swarms the size of cities that can devour tonnes of food in a day.

According to UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates, a swarm the size of Paris can eat the same amount of food in a day as half the population of France (based on the calculation that one person eats 2.3 kg of food a day).

Among poorer nations, a locust infestation means a serious threat to food security. A similar situation is afoot currently, with the food security of some of Africa’s poorest nations at risk amid what the FAO has described as the worst locust infestation in a generation.

Having arrived in India through Iran and Pakistan, the locusts have not just registered their presence in the border states of Rajasthan and Gujarat, but in the interiors of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh as well. The FAO has said much of these “movements were associated with strong westerly winds from Cyclone Amphan in the Bay of Bengal”.

While the rabi crops, recently harvested, survived the onslaught, the locusts can take a heavy toll on India’s kharif produce if not controlled by the time the harvest season arrives. It’s a grave prospect for farmers already struggling to shake off the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown.

India has not witnessed any full-blown locust cycle since 1962, except for a few surges in 1978 and 1993.