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ocust swarms sp

Locust swarms that wreaked havoc in farmland and cities like Rewari, Jhajjar and Gurugram in Haryana over the weekend have entered areas of Uttar Pradesh, the leading sugar producing state in the country.  

The swarms, spread across 3-5 sq km, had ravaged crops near Gurugram on Saturday but had spared Delhi.

They have been hitting various districts of western UP and the Bundelkhand region in the last 48 hours, prompting alerts in several districts such as Agra, Kasganj, Azamgarh, Chitrakoot and Jhansi.

Authorities fear a serious threat to crops in these regions as the Kharif sowing is in full swing due to favourable monsoon rainfall. 

“Due to wind direction from west to South-east direction, the locust swarms crossed over to UP and MP from Haryana instead of entering Delhi,” K.L. Gurjar, deputy director at Locust Warning Organisation (LWO), told ThePrint.

“This locust swarm from Haryana has split into 3-4 smaller swarms with one batch of locusts moving to Agra and Kasganj while a big flock is expected to move towards other parts of western UP like Chhota Agra, Badaun and Etah threatening crops in these major sugarcane producing districts in UP.

“Multiple sightings of smaller swarms have also been reported in Bundelkhand area, which borders Madhya Pradesh,” Gurjar added. “The swarms are being controlled by pesticide spray through vehicle-mounted sprayers, fire extinguisher vehicles and drones before they spill over to other nearby states threatening soybean and cotton crops.”

Crops under threat

Farmers in western UP and parts of Bundelkhand, where the swarms are headed, mainly grow sugarcane, rice, pulses, cotton and soybean during the monsoon season between June and September.    

If not contained, the locust attack particularly may impact sugarcane crop in Uttar Pradesh, which constitutes 45 per cent of the sugarcane sowing area of India.

In 2019-20, sugarcane crop was grown in over 26.79 lakh hectares of land; the state’s sugarcane industry is estimated to be worth about Rs 40,000 crore. It is also the main source of income for almost 35 lakh farming families and is the backbone of various other industries such as alcohol, sanitiser, ethanol, rectified spirit and other value-added chemical industries.    

A Union agriculture ministry official who did not want to be named told ThePrint, “The locust swarms, if not contained on time, can diversify into other areas in smaller groups, making it difficult to tackle them with limited resources. The current swarm is in different zones of UP and other bordering states and is likely to last for at least 14-20 days depending on measures taken.

“This year, at least 4.8 lakh hectares of farmland has been ravaged by the locust swarms. The latest swarms, if not controlled, can lead to a loss in hundreds of crores by not only destroying and delaying Kharif crop but also major horticulture produce such as fruits and vegetables in Northern India,” he added. 

The official said several more such severe locust invasions are likely to happen in July as there are reports of heavy breeding across the Horn of Africa and the Iran-Pakistan border.

Resources in favour of Rajasthan, Punjab & Gujarat

While the country has been witnessing waves of locust invasions since April, a major part of the resources to combat the swarms have been deployed in the border states of Rajasthan, Punjab and Gujarat from where the invasions have occurred so far.

This, however, has left the majority of inland agrarian states to fend for themselves. Teams from Rajasthan have now been moved to Haryana and UP to help in the locust control operations. 

The state governments of Haryana and UP have resorted to deploying tractor mounted sprayers and fire tender vehicles for locust control in farmlands.

“Spraying of pesticides is being done by vehicle-mounted sprayers and vehicles of the fire department,” a UP agriculture department official told ThePrint.

“Farmers have also been asked to make loud noises by beating ‘thali’ and other utensils in case it is time for authorities to reach them because if they allow the swarms to settle down over the farms then all the crops will be wiped out.

“Meanwhile ground control has been dispatched from Nagaur and Jaipur in Rajasthan to join the operations in UP along with drones from Jaisalmer,” the official added. “Until then, sirens of the police vehicle and smoke will also be used to chase the locusts.”