Food security under COVID-19: Eradication of locust swarms to help address food security issues

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By M Atif Ismail & Asif Habib

MULTAN, Apr 19 (APP):Corona virus pandemic is an issue of global health crisis, but if timely and proper measures are not taken, the situation could lead to food security, particularly in post-COVID-19 scenario.

Therefore, the government has decided to remain vigilant on issues pertaining to food security during the coronavirus outbreak. It has pledged to keep strict checking on wheat smuggling and hoarding of other commodities.

Agriculture is not only the basis for country’s economy but it also ensures the supply chain of foods to the masses. That is why it is of paramount importance to focus on agriculture sector to avoid food security issues.

However, the agriculture sector of the country is being faced with multiple issues including water scarcity, low quality seeds and pesticides. Moreover, the locust swarms, is an emerging threat for the sector as it has become a huge challenge for the crops the same way COVID-19 has become a threat to human life.

Talking to APP, Vice Chancellor, Muhammad Nawaz Sharif University of Agriculture, Dr Asif Ali said, “If locust is not annihilated, it will destroy the agriculture sector while creating food security issues in future.” He said that locust is a specie of travelling insects, often million in numbers (grasshopper), devour the standing crops within no time during their journey. Locusts travel sans borders, he added.

Dr Asif Ali said that locust swarms sprawl over a land of hundreds of kilometers and it is very difficult to keep the crop safe from their attack. He said that pesticides could not be used when it attack the crops. “I think locust is a potential threat and its elimination is needed to avoid food security issues”, he added.

According to Agriculture Department, some areas of tehsil Rojhan, district Rajanpur, have become hub of locust. Millions of locust laid eggs in different areas Arbi-Tibba, Shahwali, Baara, Shiekhwala and some other areas. However, Punjab Disaster Management Authority, Punjab Agriculture (Extension), Federal Plant Protection Department, District Administration are working to eliminate eggs, and locust kids.

The focal person on Locust Elimination Campaign in Rajanpur, Rahat Hussain Rashid said that only three insects (locust) could generate millions of locusts within few weeks. The mature locust could travel about 3000 kilometres. The locust used to travel in day light only, he observed.

During 2003 to 2005, locust caused complete destruction of agriculture in African countries. Rahat Rashid added that spray was done at 13 million hectares in Africa. About 500 million dollars were spent on elimination of locust in Africa.

About locust arrival in Pakistan, the agriculture expert stated, “Climate change is main reason behind locust arrival in Pakistan. Locusts are insects of sand and these cannot not survive on hard soil. Last year, the region witnessed more western winds which caused more rains resulting in arrival of locust in the country”.

About elimination of locust, Rahat observed “The immature locust could not fly but can walk. So, Agriculture Department made some ditches to keep locust falling in these ditches. Regular spray is done at these ditches. It comes up with successful result by destroying millions of locusts.”

According to survey, the locust was observed at 149,679 acres. Spray was done at over 55,000 acres. However, the campaign against elimination of locust is heading forward with rapid pace in the area. Secretary Agriculture Wasif Khursheed also stated, “Efforts for complete eradication of locust are in progress for last few months in the areas. I am highly satisfied with the ongoing operation. I also instructed staff to follow precautionary measures against COVID- 19 also during work in the field.”

Assistant Director Agriculture Information Multan Naveed Asmat Kohloon said, the operation against locust is being monitored on daily basis. He hoped that country’s agriculture would get rid of the locust very soon.