Locusts: A Scourge on South Asia

Huh, a dark blot. Perhaps a cloud? That’s what golfers in Rajasthan thought. Finally, some cool rain to relieve the sweltering heat.

But hope quickly turned to horror as swathes of locusts descended upon the heartland of India, devouring crops. People clamoured to grab steel pots and pans and honked their horns, in efforts to scare the locusts away.

This is the first time India has suffered a locust invasion since 1993. These locusts are different – flying for longer distances and faster speeds. They can lay as many as 80 eggs per female and deposit them up to 15cm below the Earth’s surface. A square kilometre’s swarm can eat as much as 35,000 people. Indian authorities have used vehicle mounted sprayers and drones to spray pesticide. India and Pakistan have put aside their differences for a coordinated pest control operation.

Scientists believe the unusually warm weather and rain is to blame. In short, the climate crisis. Of the most polluted cities in the world, 21 out of 30 were in India in 2019. The Indian and Pakistani governments’ lack of preparation despite heavy warning from eco-scientists, has cost farmers their crops. The swarms are threatening food security and economic growth, in a region already crippled by coronavirus.

Agriculture is the second-biggest contributor to Pakistan’s gross domestic product (GDP) and accounts for fifty-percent of its labour force. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Administration, Pakistan could lose $5 billion if a mere quarter of crops are damaged. In the future, climate change could also make locust invasions like this year’s more common. The government faces an unenviable quagmire; dedicating resources to combatting the pandemic or the locust invasion. Pakistan is piloting Yemen’s implemented solution; turning the locusts into chicken feed. Locals in Punjab are being offered cash for gathering locusts, drying and shredding them. But what happens when this cash runs out?

Farmers are watching in frustration. They continue to work and say; the virus might kill us, but at least there will be food on the table.