Locusts- The Hungry Beasts

Locust invasion looms large, Agri Dept, PAU on high alert

The farmers are already distressed because of Covid-19 and to add to their misery, the locusts have invaded their farms. After creating havoc in East Africa, Middle East and Pakistan, these swarms of locusts have arrived in India. 

What are locusts?

Locusts are nothing but grasshoppers in a group. They are grasshoppers when they are in solitary and locusts when they are in groups. They have been around but their sudden rise is associated with rise in cyclones and rainfalls. These environmental changes have been a favorable condition for them to breed. The increase in population density leads to changes in their appearance  and brain chemistry, which causes them to move in large groups or swarms. The current species are desert locusts. 

Why are they a problem?

Locusts basically eat everything that is green. A swarm of locusts consists of 40-80 million adults and that too in a range of one square km. They can cover an area of 100-150 kms in a day.They can eat as much as 10 elephants in one day. One locust has the capacity to consume 2.3kg of food per day. When there is a swarm attack for more than two continuous years it is called plague. 

As per the April data, they have destroyed 3,50,000 metric tons of cereal, nearly 2,00,000 hectares of cropland and over 1.3 million hectares of grazing land in Ethiopia. There were $2.5 billion dollars in crop damages after a 2003-2005 locust plague in West Africa. If not controlled they can do a lot of damage to the crops. The damage is not just related to crops but also the psychology of humans. Farmers put their heart and sole to raise crops and when they see it destroyed in minutes they are devastated. 

India is facing a problem after a span of 26 years. However, this time the locusts are immature and immature ones are more dangerous as they have a longer life span. The locusts that entered India are about 10-12 days old and are moving in search of food. Since, the Rabi harvesting is over and the Kharif sowing is yet to begin, they were unable to find any vegetation.

Is this a new problem?

Locusts have been a trouble for many decades. In the 19th century, Western America was troubled by a species of locusts called Rocky Mountain. They not only used to eat crops but also wool from the sheep, back of horses and even people's clothes. These species are now believed to be extinct.   

How are they prevented?

They can be prevented to some extent with the use of some chemicals. There are experts who study weather patterns and past records of swarm to see where they might move next. That area is then sprayed with chemicals to prevent them. 

With the cyclone Amphan and early rains, these locusts will enjoy good breeding conditions in India and that will be a huge problem for Indian farmers.

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