Large and aggressive swarms of these crop-devouring short-horned insects have invaded more than two dozen districts covering more than 50,000 hectares of desert areas of western India. Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat are the worst affected states. In neighbouring Pakistan, authorities declared a nationwide emergency in February, saying locust numbers were the worst in more than two decades. Local reports say that farmers are fighting the ” worst locust plague in nearly three decades” and the swarms were decimating crops and sending prices of food soaring.We are battling a major locust attack from across the border. This is the biggest invasion in nearly three decades. The swarms are very big and they have migrated from across the border after breeding a month earlier than we were expecting,” KL Gurjar, deputy director of India’s Locust Warning Organisation, said”We are lucky that there is no crop in the fields now. But the locusts eat up all the green vegetation, leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds and plants,” Mr Gurjar said.
The Covid-19 pandemic is posing fresh challenges for some 100 odd workers who are battling the insects, using vehicle-mounted sprayers, pesticides and drones in the searing desert heat.
They are staying in the villages, where they are being given foods by locals, and going out at night to hunt down the insects in face masks and wearing some basic protective clothing. “They have migrated here after breeding across the border. It is a severe attack,” says Om Prakash, a plant-protection officer, who works in Rajasthan state .
India, clearly, needs to be watchful in the months ahead. “We need to be alert and anticipate where this is going next. The situation is all the more alarming as it comes at a time when the affected states are already reeling under Covid-19 and the ongoing heatwave,” says Anshu Sharma of Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society, a non-profit disaster management organisation.