Pakistan says working with India in fight against locust menace
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© [Vishal Bhatnagar/AFP] A resident of Jaipur city in the western Indian state of Rajasthan tries to fend off swarms of locusts from a mango tree [File: Vishal Bhatnagar/AFP]
Pakistani and Indian authorities are working together to combat the worst invasion of desert locusts in decades in the region, which is threatening crops in both countries, Pakistan’s foreign office has said.
The two countries – also bitter regional rivals – have been coordinating through the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), on controlling the locust activity, sharing data and attending weekly meetings.
During a weekly briefing on Thursday, a spokesman from Pakistan’s foreign office said a decision to work together was made at a ministerial-level meeting of Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and Iran in March.
The participants decided to revive communication between the regional countries through the FAO’s Commission for Controlling the Desert Locust in South-West Asia (SWAC).
Each country, helped by the SWAC, agreed to establish a technical and operational coordination (ToC) team to exchange information, enhance coordination at the border areas and increase synchronisation to combat the desert locust outbreak in the region, said the spokesperson.
Pakistan’s foreign office said the country has been participating in SWAC meetings weekly, which are fruitful in exchanging information in the bordering areas of Pakistan and India.
“On its part, the government of Pakistan remains committed to cooperating with all SWAC member states, including India, in combating the desert locust outbreak,” the spokesman said.
Pakistan is facing its worst locust infestation in two decades, prompting authorities to declare a national emergency.
Millions of locusts have also engulfed India’s seven heartland states, including the western desert of Rajasthan, and threaten vegetable and pulse crops such as lentils and beans.
The last major locust surge was in 1993, when heavy rains created favourable breeding conditions for the insects along the India-Pakistan border.
Fresh swarms have arrived as governments in both countries are trying to contain the spread of the coronavirus and reeling from economic fallout associated with pandemic restrictions.
The insects have caused extensive damage to pastures and crops and threatened food security in East African countries including Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea and Djibouti this year.
Locust swarms can fly up to 150km (90 miles) a day, and the adult insects can consume roughly their own weight in fresh food each day.
A small swarm can eat enough food to feed 35,000 people in one day, according to the FAO.
“We have never, ever seen what we have in the last six months in India … never in the history,” said Bhagirath Choudhary, director of the New Delhi-based South Asia Biotechnology Centre, an agriculture think-tank.
From deploying drones and fire trucks to banging utensils and blaring loud music, India is experimenting with ways to battle the new wave of locust attacks that have alarmed farmers.
Some have mounted their tractors with insecticide sprayers or banged steel pots and plates, while others have lit fireworks or played loud music on speakers in the middle of their fields.
A farmer in Uttar Pradesh rolled out a mobile disc jockey system, normally used at weddings.
Last week, the capital, New Delhi, and neighbouring districts were put on high alert for a possible locust invasion, with authorities urging residents to shut their windows and doors tight.
“Farmers are advised to collectively beat drums, tin containers [and] steel plates and use loudspeakers to prevent locusts from descending on farms and damaging crops,” Suhas LY, the magistrate of Gautam Buddha Nagar district in Uttar Pradesh state, said on Twitter.
Most years, the winged invaders destroy crops in parts of Rajasthan close to the border but farm experts say it is rare for them to move further into the state and other non-desert areas of India.
“Farmers are crying, they don’t know what to do … it’s like a natural disaster,” Choudhary told the Reuters news agency.
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