When I was in high school, there was a chapter with the title “A MILD ATTACK OF LOCUST” in my English book. At that time the chapter seemed boring and meaningless, but as I have grown up and can comprehend the situation with a broader point of view, I have changed my mind. The reason behind the conversion of thought is that locusts can affect the economy of any country to that level that may even surpass the cost afflicted by war. One can venture to say an aggressive locust attack can be threat to a country’s economic existence. It has been reported that Pakistan can face a loss of RS 500 billion if preventive measures are not taken. The damage isn’t confined to economic loss in monetary terms but also spills over other significant realms such as Food Chain and therefore affecting Food Security.

What are locusts?

It is a collection of species of grasshoppers which if solitary is not harmful but when they start to form swarms, can be extremely dangerous. They are called gregarious, and are not less than economies’ destroyer. They are crop eating insects, and they are as old as the hills. Locusts have been mentioned in the Quran, Bible, Mahabharat and many other ancient books. There has always been confusion between locusts and grasshoppers. Locusts are actually part of a large number of groups of grasshoppers and belong to family Acrididae. The uniqueness in locust is that they are adaptable to a different environment, unlike grasshopper.

What is desert locust?

It is the desert locust which has become a headache for the parts of the world like Africa, Near East and South-West Asia. Desert Locusts are usually restricted to the semi-arid and arid deserts of Africa, the Near East and South-West Asia that receive less than 200 mm of rain annually. This is an area of about 16 million square kilometers, consisting of about 30 countries. It may spread over an area of some 29 million kilometers. This is more than 20% of the total land surface of the world. There is no regularity in the attack of locusts as Pakistan is going to face an onslaught after 27 years.

During this century, desert locust occurred in 1926-1934, 1940-1948, 1949-1963, 1967-1969 and 1986-1989. The life expectancy of the locust is five months, but it may vary with varying environment and ecology. Its life cycle is comprised of three stages, i.e. egg, hopper and adult. Eggs hatch in about two weeks (the range is 10-65 days), hoppers develop in five to six stages over about 30-40 days, and adults mature in about three weeks to nine months but more frequently from two to four months. A desert locust adult can consume roughly its weight in fresh food per day, that is about two grams every day. A 1 km size swarm contains about 40 million locusts, which eat the same amount of food in one day as approximately 35,000 people.

This is based on a person eating an average of 2.3 kg of food per day, according to the USDA. After demolishing Africa, it has finally entered India and Pakistan to cause massive food shortage and crop losses in the area. It will incur a gigantic loss for Pakistan’s economy, which is already unstable due to Covid19, and it will become difficult for a country like Pakistan, already under the pressure of different debts, to manage this. Chairman of National Disaster Management Authority already warned Pakistan that it might face two more looming disasters of locusts and floods in next month besides Covid-19.

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates losses as high as $2.2 billion to agriculture from locusts this year to winter crops and nearly $2.89 billion for summer crops. Pakistan administration has set up a National Locust Control Center to monitor and administer anti locust operations. Pakistan Army also committed to deploying 5,000 of its personnel in different regions to help tackle the crisis,  At present the primary method of controlling Desert Locust swarms and hopper bands is with mainly organophosphate chemicals applied in small concentrated doses [referred to as ultra-low volume (ULV) formulation] by vehicle-mounted and aerial sprayers and to a lesser extent by knapsack and hand-held sprayers. This natural threat needs more earnest efforts from the government to handle this situation, as food security is and going to be more serious challenge for the government in near future.