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Bangladesh on the locust watch

  • Published at 12:20 am February 25th, 2020
Locust
Desert locusts are seen in a grazing land in Nakwamuru village, Samburu County, Kenya January 16, 2020 Reuters

Pakistan declares national emergency; India says had it not taken steps in time, locusts would have reached Bangladesh too

Bangladesh has been alerted to keep watch on probable locust infestation, which the country has never experienced over the last five decades. 

After two of its South Asian neighbours – India and Pakistan – have already started losing crops due to locust invasion, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has asked Bangladesh to remain watchful. 

Earlier this month, Pakistan declared national emergency to tackle locusts, while India started buying drones and specialist equipment to monitor the movement of locusts and spray insecticides to ward off a new outbreak that could ravage crops.

Locusts are part of a large group of insects commonly called grasshoppers which have big hind legs for jumping. A swarm of one square kilometre in size contains about 40 million locusts, which eat the same amount of food in one day as about 35,000 people.

AZM Sabbir Ibna Jahan, who oversees the affairs of the Plant Protection Wing at Bangladesh’s Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), told Dhaka Tribune on Monday: “We are observing the locust situation closely as swarms of locusts already started invading crop fields in some parts of India and Pakistan. In Bangladesh, we have never experienced locust invasion before. But this year a record infestation of locusts is reported.”

He said the concerned government departments and officials are keeping in constant communication with FAO as the UN has called on the international community to provide nearly $76 million to finance aerial spraying of pesticides in East Africa, where swarms of locusts continue to decimate crops and threaten food security in the region.

Swarms from Arabia arrive in Persian Gulf and beyond

According to FAO Locust Watch, on February 20, immature swarms from the Arabian Peninsula reached the shores of the Persian Gulf in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the southwest coast of Iran. More swarms are likely to arrive during periods of southerly winds, it says.

 The situation remains extremely alarming in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia where widespread Desert Locust infestations and a new generation of breeding threaten food security and livelihoods in the region.  

FAO says breeding is in progress along both sides of the Red Sea in Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea and Saudi Arabia where hopper groups, bands, immature adults’ groups have formed that is likely to cause swarms to form shortly. Several immature swarms have moved from the coastal plains to the interior in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. 

Reuters reported on February 19 that earlier this year, Indian authorities were able to bring swarms of desert locusts under control, but an outbreak in neighbouring Pakistan has again raised concerns about the safety of crops such as wheat and oilseeds in India.

Pakistan, which is facing the worst locust infestation in two decades, has declared a national emergency.

Locusts would have reached Bangladesh too

India’s State Minister for Agriculture Kailash Choudhary assured farmers last week that the locust attacks have been brought under control.

Speaking to media, Kailash Choudhary said: “Locust attacks have been controlled. Now the situation is normal. Locusts came to India from Pakistan's side. We have contained the locusts through modern technology.

"Other countries have also appreciated our efforts and noted that if the Indian government had not taken steps in time, locusts would have reached Bangladesh too," added Choudhary.

Crops over thousands of hectares in Rajasthan have been destroyed by locusts in the last few months. The western districts of the state bordering with Pakistan have been the worst affected.

China steps up locust prevention

Beijing has allocated 1.4 billion yuan ($200 million) for the prevention and control of pests, including locusts and fall armyworms, the South China Morning Post reported on February 22.

Though UN experts say China is unlikely to suffer major infestation a the Himalaya mountains act as “natural barrier” for locusts in India and Pakistan, the Chinese authorities have heightened prevention and control measures to protect its cropland from desert locusts.

Locusts, which decimate almost all green vegetation including crops and trees, have swarmed swathes of agricultural land on the India-Pakistan border, an area identified as a global hotspot for the pests by FAO.

The outbreak has raised concerns in neighbouring China, where an economic downturn is already being made worse by the spread of a new coronavirus that has killed more than 2,500 people and ground business to a near halt.

Swarms could increase by 500 times

The latest locust swarms migrated from the Arabian Peninsula, where cyclones in the deserts of Oman this fall created ideal breeding conditions. The swarms arrived on the African continent three months ago and have since grown in size and scope. FAO has warned that the swarms could increase by 500 times come June, in light of rainy forecasts.

Climate change may have contributed to the outbreak, according to the UN Environment Program. Warmer sea temperatures have increased the frequency of cyclones in the Indian Ocean, causing heavy rainfall on the Arabian Peninsula which in turn accelerated locust reproduction. 

“We know that cyclones are the originators of swarms — and in the past 10 years there’s been an increase in the frequency of cyclones in the Indian Ocean,” Keith Cressman, senior locust forecasting officer at FAO, said earlier this month.