Locust Plague: Pakistan's Farmers Worry Children May Starve
Thu, April 22, 2021

Locust Plague: Pakistan's Farmers Worry Children May Starve

Thousands of acres of crops were destroyed because of desert locusts, large herbivores that look like grasshoppers. / Photo by: Antonín Vogeltanz via 123rf

 

While China and the rest of the world are fighting the coronavirus outbreak, another country is battling a locust plague: Pakistan. It recently declared a national emergency because of locusts’ swarms and the government warned that it is the worst locust invasion they have faced in two decades.

Swarms of Locusts Destroying Crops in Pakistan

Thousands of acres of crops were destroyed because of desert locusts, large herbivores that look like grasshoppers. It is believed that the insects arrived from Iran and are now damaging Pakistan’s wheat, cotton, maize, and other crops. The country’s food security minister Khusro Bakhtiar was quoted by local daily The Express Tributed, saying aerial spray has been applied to 20,000 hectares so far.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Pakistan farmers raised their concern that their children may “starve” as pests have destroyed their crops. Pashta Khan Moulla-based farmer Abdul Qadir shared that every farmer in their field used to reap 100 to 200 bags of wheat but these were all gone now. “The locusts have eaten it,” he added. At least 2,000 people are living in their village alone and all of them are depending on their income from farming. If the locusts continue to damage their cotton crop, their children may have nothing to eat.

Saadullah Zehri, 33 years old and a father of six, is also a farmer in the mountain of Pakistan. He said that locusts have wiped out the wheat crop on his farm. He plans to sow cotton on about 20 to 25 acres of land for the next harvest but is “afraid” that the pests will just destroy their plants again. Planting of cotton usually starts this month in Pakistan and harvesting happens in October.

The United Nations, an international organization that aims to maintain security and peace among nations, has already issued a warning about the desert locusts that are also swarming through East Africa and have reached Tanzania and Uganda. “Act not to prevent desert locust catastrophe,” the UN said. The infestation happening in Kenya is the worst they ever encountered in 70 years while Ethiopia and Somalia are experiencing the worst outbreaks in 25 years. It is a “race against time” to tackle the infestation as millions of lives are at risk.

Knowing About the Destructive Migratory Pest

The UN said that locusts are the world’s “most destructive” and oldest migratory pest. An average swarm comprises as many as 40 million insects. These pests can travel up to 150km in one day and can devour an amount of food in that period that could feed 34 million people.

The Pakistan government has already sought help from China. Last month, a Chinese delegation visited the country for one week to assess the condition in Pakistan’s fields. China then agreed to provide 300 tons of pesticide and spraying equipment. Earlier this month, the National Disaster Management Authority of Pakistan said that Chinese technicians will be training Pakistani staff to use the equipment.

Ministry of National Food Security and Research’s Director-General Department of Plant Protection Dr. Falak Naz also told Reuters that there is a fear of a locust attack in June to July. This is why they are already preparing and planning.

 

The UN said that locusts are the world’s “most destructive” and oldest migratory pest. / Photo by: wrangel via 123rf

 

Crop Protection Industry in Pakistan: Statistics

Database company Statista provided data on the market share of Pakistan’s crop protection industry in 2016, by product type. Insecticides accounted for 42% of the country’s crop production market followed by herbicide (23%), granules (16%), fungicide (10%), and crop supplements (9%).

The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics likewise said that agriculture constitutes the largest sector in their economy and the majority of the population, whether directly or indirectly, are dependent on this sector. About 24% of the country’s GDP comes from agriculture and it also accounts for 50% of the employed labor force. It feeds the whole urban and rural population of Pakistan. This is why policymakers and planners have always been keen to have a reliable production and area statistics of agricultural land in the country because of the sector’s importance. The most important crops in Pakistan are maize, sugarcane, rice, cotton, and wheat.

The plagues hit the Pakistan government as it is already struggling to manage inflation, which exists when prices rise but the purchasing power of people falls for a certain period. In January, Bloomberg reports that Pakistan reached a ten-year high of 14.6% inflation. Being also the fifth most populous nation in the world, it will be a huge challenge to cope with shortages of food items, such as wheat flour and sugar.

The administration of Prime Minister Imran Khan already said that it will increase the guaranteed price for wheat to support local farmers. They are also set to import 300,000 tons of grain to increase the supplies of flour in the country.

As for tackling the swarm of locusts, a reliable way has yet been introduced as the pests’ movements and occurrence are hard to predict. What is known is that these pests move very fast in remote and large areas. Mauritania, a country in Africa, has been praised for using the pre-emptive tactic of spraying locusts even before the “gregarisation” process starts. When the environment is favorable (usually after cyclones and heavy rains) for locusts, they will gather in the same place and change their color from immature pink (immature) to yellow (mature) and then they will form a swarm. This is the gregarisation process.

Hunger and Undernourishment

Our World in Data, a scientific online publication that focuses on large global problems, details the share of people who are undernourished in Pakistan in 2000 (23.40%) and onwards. Figures detailed are as follows: 2001 (24.80%), 2002 (25.80%), 2003 (25.50%), 2004 (24.50%), 2005 (20.30%), 2006 (22.40%), 2007 (21.70%), 2008 (21.30%). 2009 – 2011 (21.10%), 2012 – 2014 (21.00%), 2015 (20.80%), 2016 (20.60%), and 2017 (20.30%).   

Child malnutrition hurts the cognitive function of people and contributes to poverty as it impedes people’s ability to lead productive lives. School-age kids who experience severe hunger are at increased risk for the following outcomes: stressful life conditions, behavioral problems, chronic health conditions, homelessness, internalizing behavior, including poor self-esteem, withdrawal, anxiety, and depression, and psychiatric distress.

Nutrition is the basic pillar of economic and social development. Well-nourished people can think critically, learn new skills, and contribute to their communities. This is why improving child nutrition impacts regional, national, and global child survival. If the swarms of desert locusts are not addressed in Africa and other countries, especially in East Africa, the outbreak might not just ravage the crops but also deepen the hunger crisis.