Locusts threaten food security in Pakistan

Desert locusts have arrived and are ravaging crops in south western Balochistan, one of the remotest parts of Pakistan. According to residents of Garang, a sparsely populated village in the Washuk district, a few hundred kilometres distant from Iran, hopper bands of the Schistocerca gregaria -desert locust- are growing by the day.

“Slowly and gradually, these locusts are eating away at everything in cultivated lands. Now, they are moving towards other fields in nearby villages,” a farmer, Maulvi Satar Baloch, told The Third Pole.

In the neighbouring Kharan district, which has patches of green and cultivated lands, the situation is similar. Locusts are thriving on vegetation and eating everything green they can find, despite the spraying of pesticide. This year’s locust infestation is a continuation of 2019’s outbreak in Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and South Asia, which is said to be the worst in decades.

As farmers described an unprecedented presence of the insatiable pests, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned of a serious infestation that can lead to a major threat to food security.

In a report prepared this week for Pakistan, the FAO has warned of a locust invasion. “Iran and Pakistan are especially prone as locust breeding is taking place in these areas, also due to the wet winter this year. In Pakistan, 38% of the area [60% in Balochistan, 25% in Sindh and 15% in Punjab] are breeding grounds for the desert locust, whereas the entire country is under the threat of invasion if the desert locust is not contained in the breeding regions.”

To give an idea of the scale of the destruction these pests can unleash, the report’s worst-case forecast predicted “severe damage” in areas where major rabi (winter-sown) crops like wheat, chickpea and oilseeds grow. Losses to agriculture could reach PKR 205 billion [USD 1.3 billion], considering a damage level of 15% to the production of wheat, gram and potato alone. At a 25% level of damage, the FAO estimates total potential losses of about PKR 353 billion for the rabi crops, and about PKR 464 billion for kharif (summer-sown) crops.

The report said locust populations will move from the spring breeding areas in Balochistan and adjacent areas of southeast Iran to the summer breeding areas along both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border. The movement will continue throughout June, so untreated swarms are likely to cross the Indus valley and reach the desert areas in Tharparkar, Nara and Cholistan in time for the start of the monsoon rains. It also warned of a second threat of invasion by swarms in East Africa in late June and in July

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