KARACHI, Pakistan (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - To many farmers in southeast Pakistan, an impending locust attack when summer crops of cotton, sugarcane and rice are being sown, and fruit and vegetables are ready to be picked is a much bigger problem than the coronavirus pandemic.
“If the crops are eaten up by the locusts, we will have a dire food security issue on our hands,” said Zahid Bhurgri, a farmer from Mirpur Khas district in Sindh province.
“The price of flour and vegetables will sky-rocket,” making staple foods hard for some to afford, added Bhurgri, who is also general secretary of the Sindh Chamber of Agriculture.
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates losses to agriculture from locusts this year could be as high as PKR 353 billion ($2.2 billion) for winter crops like wheat and potatoes and about PKR 464 billion for summer crops.
A May update from the FAO warned it would be “imperative” to contain and control the desert locust infestation in the midst of the additional impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on health, livelihoods, food security and nutrition for Pakistan’s most poor and vulnerable communities.
Last year, Pakistan suffered its worst attack of locusts since 1993, for which the country was largely unprepared.
Farmers now have little confidence the government will help them fight a new wave of voracious insects threatening their harvests – though officials said extensive measures were being taken.
“Neither the central, nor the provincial government is doing anything about it,” said Bhurgri, who grows vegetables, red chillies, cotton and sugarcane on about 600 acres of land.
The locusts arrived in Pakistan from Iran in June 2019, devouring cotton, wheat and maize, among other crops.
The invasion was initially expected to subside by mid-November. But it has persisted due to favourable weather conditions for continued locust breeding, linked to global warming, according to FAO’s Pakistan office.
“Good vegetation due to plentiful rain and a sandy soil provided a perfect setting for the insects to multiply,” said Muhammad Tariq Khan, technical director at the Department of Plant Protection in the Ministry of National Food Security and Research.