LAHORE               -          Expressing alarm over reports of even bigger attack of locust swarm in July this year, Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP) former chairman Shahzad Ali Malik has urged the government to take immediate measures for saving rice and cotton crops. Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has issued warning of a second locust swarm attack in Pakistan in July. As such two most precious crops of the season, rice and cotton will be at huge risk. Malik stressed the need for massive ariel spray especially in Sindh and Southern Punjab to save rice and cotton crops from the wrath of locust swarm.

Rice exports are currently hovering slightly over US$ 2.2 billion dollars and the government and exporters are endeavouring to take it to US$ 5 billion by the year 2023, but possible damage by locust swarm will hit hard these efforts rather may reverse the situation, he feared. He said that agriculture is the second largest sector of the national economy which is contributing 20 per cent in the GDP while over 50 per cent of the workforce is employed by this sector. Locust swarm is the bigger threat than Coronavirus as no one can escape from famine or hunger, he added.

Malik said already locust had damaged wheat, pulses, oilseed, vegetables, fodder and mango crops and it is said that the coming locust swarm which is expected in July will be four times larger than what have experienced recently. He said that not only locust is expected from Africa but those which are breeding locally will add to the contingent. He said in July, paddy will be in the flowering stage especially in Sindh and Southern Punjab and if immediate steps are not taken it may be ruined totally by the pest. Talking about the remedial measures, he said that both short and long term steps are needed. In short term, Department of Plant Protection (DPP) should either acquire aircraft on lease for spray from other countries or army aviation’s aircraft and helicopters should be converted for dusting (aerial spray) on large scale to deal with this pest.

In the longer run, he said that the Department of Plant Protection which had 20 aircrafts in the 1980s should be given the task to raise a big fleet to meet any such situation in the future. He said already crop size of non-basmati rice has increased manifold in Pakistan as it was 2.563 million metric tons in 2010-11 while in 2018-19 it rose to 3.54 million metric tons because of the introduction of hybrid varieties, which also help non-basmati to gain a larger share in national exports as compared to Basmati varieties. Damage to rice crop in Sindh and South Punjab means hit to this bigger chunk of export cake, he concluded.