MULTAN - The worst locust attack in decades has ravaged standing crops in many areas of South Punjab, causing financial losses worth billions to the farmers, The Nation has learnt.

A survey of South Punjab region has revealed that the locusts attacked  Multan, Muzaffargarh, Layyah, Dera Ghazi Khan, Bahawalpur, Khanewal, Lodhran, Rajanpur and Vehari areas where it seriously damaged crops like cotton, wheat , maize, vegetables, sunflower, green pastures and mango orchards. 

Agriculture Information Officer Naveed Kahloon told media that the locust swarms were on their way to Cholistan from Multan-Tibba Sultanpur-Vehari-Mailsi-Bahawalnagar route for breeding.

In a video message, the PML-N Punjab Secretary General Sardar Awais Leghari expressed serious concerns on locust attack in South Punjab.

Jhang, Kot Addu, Layyah, Rojhan and even the home constituency of Pun¬jab Chief Minister Taunsa are under severe locust attack., he said.

But there is no action on part of government so far, he said.

He maintained that the government left the farmers of South Punjab helpless at the mercy of locusts which  damaged their crops.

In Multan, the locals got panicked after seeing huge swarms of locusts descending upon the town during last couple of days. “I have never seen a thing like this. They’re in millions. They are eating up everything that they sit on. They have cleaned up my entire field,” said a farmer Malik Shaukat while talking to this scribe.

The locust reportedly attacked areas like  Matti Tal, Band Bosan, Sahi Chawan, Jhok Wains, Banjanwala, Maan Kot, New Multan, Chowk Kumharanwala, Vehari Chowk, Shah Rukan-e-Alam, Qadirpur Rawan and Taataypur.

Khalid Khan, an owner of a mango orchard in Multan, told The Nation that his orchard was almost ready to harvest when locusts attacked it.

“Now hardly anything is left behind. It’s a huge loss,” he added.

Although the desert locusts arrived in Pakistan from Iran in June 2019, it took the government at least seven months to come into action.

The Prime Minister Imran Khan declared a national emergency on February 1, 2020 after the swarms had already destroyed standing crops on hundreds of thousands of acres of land.

Experts have warned that the first major locust attack after 1993 can pose a serious threat to country’s food security. The desert pest has destroyed crops in majority areas of South Punjab which is considered the bread basket of the country.

A recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations titled Desert locust situation in Pakistan’had already warned that Pakistan was under serious threat and if the locust was not contained in breeding regions, entire country would be under threat of its invasion.

The report had anticipated that the locust populations would start moving to breeding areas like Balochistan, Southeast Iran and both sides of Indo-Pakistan border like Tharparkar, Nara and Cholistan by the end of May and throughout June.

However, the response from the government and concerned departments was too slow to allow the locusts invade South Punjab region without any resistance.

Resultantly, the large swarms of locust have destroyed early sowed cotton, ready to reap mango, vegetables and fodder.  

At a time when country’s economy is already under serious depression due to COVID-19 outbreak, some estimates state that if the locust destroys just 25 per cent of Rabi crop it will cause over Rs. 350 billion loss to the country and over Rs. 460 billion for Kharif.

Meanwhile, in a media release Punjab Minister for Agriculture Malik Noman Langriyal said that steps were being taken on war footings to control locust attack.

“We’ve finalized arrangements for aerial spray and three beaver planes have been arranged for this purpose,” he added.

He said that 3,000 agri workers and 328 vehicles were engaged in the campaign against locusts and so far 44,000 tonnes of insecticide had been sprayed over 134,000 hectares across the province.

He said that the locust was migrating from one area to other and special teams of Agriculture Department were monitoring the situation in Mian Channu, Burewala, Khairpur Tamewali and adjoining areas.

Similarly, Deputy Commissioner Multan Aamir Khattak visited Jhoke Wains area and told farmers that he would personally supervise the operation against locusts.

He disclosed that a four-member committee comprising Additional Deputy Commissioner Revenue, AC Saddar and two agri officers had been formed to arrange chemicals for spray for the elimination of locust.

Agriculture Information Officer Naveed Kahloon said that the government was taking all out steps to control the attack and compensate the losses being faced by the farmers.

He added that the crops damaged due to the locust attack would be compensated under the crop insurance scheme.