Pakistan, Iran and India are facing the worst locust attack threatening a serious food crisis in the region. Experts believe that the challenge demands a joint effort to be contained. Can a trilateral response be helpful? What challenges do these countries face while formulating a joint strategy?
Pakistan and India are expected to work together to ‘fight a crop-killing desert locust invasion’, which threatens food security for millions of people across the region. Pakistan, Iran and India are facing the worst locust attack.
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Adult desert locust swarms can fly up to 150 km a day with the wind and adult insects can consume roughly their own weight in fresh food per day. A single square kilometer swarm can eat as much food in a day as 35,000 people.
They feed on nearly all green vegetation – leaves, flowers, bark, stems, fruit, and seeds – and crops including millet, rice, maize, sorghum, sugarcane, barley, cotton, fruit trees, date palm, vegetables, rangeland grasses, acacia, pines and banana.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, a swarm of locusts spread across an area of one square kilometre can eat as much food as 35,000 people in one day. Their appetite is voracious and one locust can consume food equal to its own weight – about two grams – on a daily basis. And since a square kilometer swarm would contain about 40 million locusts, it can cause a significant amount of damage in a short period of time.
India’s proposed trilateral response
Pakistan has confirmed that India is proposing a trilateral response in partnership with Iran to counter the worst locust attack.
“We have received a proposal from India,” Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesperson Aisha Farooqui told VOA. “We believe that a well-coordinated response is critical to deal with the challenge posed by desert locusts,” she stressed. She would not say what Islamabad’s possible response to the Indian proposal would be.
Farooqui, however, noted that Pakistan was “working closely” with regional countries, including India and global partners, particularly the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), to address the looming locust threat.
The ongoing wider regional cooperation is happening under FAO’s Commission for Controlling the Desert Locust in Southwest Asia (SWAC), established in 1964 with Afghanistan, India, Iran and Pakistan as its members.
Under the proposed trilateral response, New Delhi has reportedly suggested to Islamabad that both countries “coordinate locust control operations along the border and that India can facilitate the supply of malathion, a pesticide, to Pakistan.”
Keith Cressman, FAO’s senior locust forecasting officer, told to reporters that India and Pakistan face an “imminent threat of several waves of spring-bred swarms” from southwest Pakistan and southern Iran during May and June.
Earlier, BR Kadwa, deputy director of the agriculture department of India, said that “swarms of locusts are entering Rajasthan from adjoining areas in Pak every 2-3 days since a month. Pakistan has become the new breeding ground of the locusts and hence we are seeing the repeated attacks of locusts in the state. Four swarms have entered Jaipur recently”.
Notably, according to a report in Times of India, locust swarms have reached as far as Vidarbha in Maharashtra and caused crop damage. This, according to the report, has not happened since 1974.
The threat of a locust flare-up comes as summer crops of cotton, sugar cane, and rice are being sown in Pakistan, while fruit and vegetables are ready to be harvested.
The latest FAO situation report warns that desert locust breeding is ongoing across 38% of land area in Pakistan, with the entire country under threat of an invasion if the pest is not contained.
Pakistan suffered its worst locust attack in nearly three decades in 2019, for which the country was ill-prepared at the time.
China, meanwhile, is also assisting Pakistan in its locust efforts. The Chinese Embassy in Islamabad said in a statement that Beijing has already sent teams of agricultural experts to advise Pakistani farmers, donated 300 tons of malathion and 50 air-powered high-efficiency remote sprayers to combat the insects.