Is Covid-19 overshadowing locust threat to food security?

Byline: Mohammad Zayauddin

ACCORDING to Keith Cressman of Locust Watch website of the United Nations, the current widespread locust breeding in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia is an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihood at the beginning of the upcoming cropping season. Pakistan is on the list of hard-hit countries, along with Iran and Sudan.

Reportedly, the military has been deployed in Uganda to spray trees by hand in the morning before locusts take off. Ethiopia, where about 80 per cent of the population relies on agriculture, is facing the worst infestation it has seen in the last quarter of a century. Furthermore, it is encountering cross-border locust migration from Somalia and Kenya.

Pakistan is also facing a similar crisis of cross-border locust migration from Iran. The Covid-19 carriers from Iran, that have caused much havoc in our country, have overshadowed the locust threat to food security here.

The overshadowing can be gauged from the fact that the Food and Agriculture Organisation's locust update of March 17, 2020, is silent about Pakistan. This is reflective of the fact that the Department of Plant Protection (DPP), responsible for the control of locusts in the country, has not provided an update to the FAO. This raises a big question mark, particularly in the view of the declaration of a locust emergency, the national action plan to control locusts and the commissioning of committees for the inter-provincial coordination, surveillance and monitoring of the pests.

As per the FAO locust update of March 17, 2020, for Iran, swarms of locusts continue to lay eggs in the southwest provinces, therefore hatching and band formation is imminent. Local breeding continues in the south-east where hoppers are forming groups in eastern Hormozgan.

Instead of relying on China, the Department of Plant Protection should devise its own strategy, involving local inhabitants who have kept the desert under surveillance in the past as well as kept the pests under control using existing equipment

The government of Iran is striving hard to contain the menace in its south-west provinces, particularly South Khuzestan, Bushehr, South Fars and West Hormozan. However, Iran may not be able to contain the swarms of locusts forming the way it has not been able to control the coronavirus pandemic.

Normally, desert locusts breed in South-East Iran in spring (March-May). Last year, desert locust swarms invaded Saudi Arabia in January and migrated...

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