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LOCUST ATTACKS: WHAT IS IT? WHY SHOULD YOU BE WORRIED?

LOCUST ATTACKS: WHAT IS IT? WHY SHOULD YOU BE WORRIED?

The year 2020 is the gift that keeps on giving. Devastation in the form of a disease, forest fires, earthquakes, cyclones are now everyday circumstances. Six months into the new year has ensured a worldwide lockdown and put life on a standstill as we know it. Joining the bandwagon lately are locusts, an otherwise harmless specie of grasshoppers which have altered their breeding pattern due to climate change and have promised unprecedented devastation in keeping with the theme of the year.

Locusts

The Dessert Locusts is a short horned grasshopper. This insect is commonly found in Africa and parts of Asia. While grasshoppers are generally solitary creatures, an estimated 20 species out of 7,000 known grasshopper varieties change their behavior as and when they socialize. The desert locust is one such variety who are known to alter their behavior, appearance & habits as their population increases. This may include change in color, increase in musculature and breeding patterns amongst the insects and is commonly referred to as the ‘gregarious phase’.

Breeding Pattern

The desert locust prefer to lay eggs in damp soil. This phenomena is heavily dependent on ideal climate conditions as heavy rainfall results in a change in breeding pattern for the insect. The locusts breed at a greater scale laying as many as a thousand eggs per square meter of soil. These eggs then hatch, feed and migrate in search of more fodder and are a menace known to destroy a large variety of crops. Locusts travel up to 150 kilometers per day depending on wind and wreck havoc in their wake.

Origin

The swarm is said to have originated due to excess rainfall and a consecutive breeding boom in the Horn of Africa. The swarm traveled through Iran entered India via Pakistan. These migratory pests have covered a wide range of states including Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. The only way to control these swarms is to spray chemicals which in turn again destroy crop, the crop India desperately needs to sustain through the pandemic.

Threat to food security

While India has currently harvested the Rabi crop, devastation as of now is not alarming. The problem lies in the monsoon season, wherein if left unchecked, these swarms could grow exponentially to 40-80 million locusts per square kilometer. This behavior will continue through the monsoon season and ultimately affect the growth phase of the Kharif crop.

Current Scenario

At present, India is experiencing one of its worst locust attacks in over 26 years. This comes at a time when the nation is already battling the Coronavirus pandemic and ensuring food security has never been more imminent.

The Locust Warning Organization established under the Ministry of Agriculture is working with a ground team of about 50 people in order to track these swarms and the drones spraying Malathion 96, an organophosphate insecticide, a potentially toxic chemical for non-cropped areas. For areas with agriculture, Chlorpyrifos is sprayed by fire brigades, tractor mounted sprays and drones.

While insecticides may provide temporary relief they also endanger the birds that act as natural predators of the locusts. Thus, a more permanent strategy needs to be implemented in support of the protection of birds, this includes a conscious effort to bring back species like house sparrows that have been disappearing rapidly.

Image Source: Financial Express

About The Author

Seerat Kaur

Seerat Kaur has completed her graduation and post graduation in Economics and Supply Chain and Logistics Management from the University of Warwick, UK. As a part of her degree, she has completed two dissertations which required primary data collection as well as analysis. At Envecologic, she primarily works in research and sustainability partnerships. In the duration of her work, she worked closely in launching the State of Delhi’s Air report, the biggest air pollution survey ever done in the capital.She’s a national level basketball player and loves swimming. Her interests include reading, travelling, sports and music.

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