Locust: A Real Threat to Food Security

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

What are locusts?

Locusts have been feared and revered throughout history. Related to grasshoppers, these insects form enormous swarms that spread across regions, devouring crops and leaving serious agricultural damage in their wake. Plagues of locusts have devastated societies since the Pharaohs led ancient Egypt, and they still wreak havoc today.

Desert Locusts

The desert locust is a notorious species. Found in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, this species inhabits an area of about six million square miles, or 30 countries, during a quiet period. During a plague, when large swarms descend upon a region, however, these locusts can spread out across some 60 countries and cover a fifth of Earth's land surface.

The 2019-2020 Locust Infestation

The outbreak began with heavy rains in 2018 in the Rub' al Khali of the Arabian Peninsula; in Spring 2019, swarms spread from these areas, and by June 2019, the locusts spread north to Iran, Pakistan, and India and south to East Africa, particularly the Horn of Africa. By the end of 2019, there were swarms in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Oman, Iran, India, and Pakistan.

This desert locust crisis traces back to May 2018, when Cyclone Mekunu passed over a vast, unpopulated desert on the southern Arabian Peninsula known as the Rub' al Khali, filling the space between sand dunes with ephemeral lakes, which allowed locusts to breed undetected. This was further amplified in October 2018 by Cyclone Luban, which spawned in the central Arabian Sea, marched westward, and rained out over the same region near the border of Yemen and Oman. Locusts grow exponentially in this kind of climate and ultimately, these two 2018 cyclones enabled three generations of wildly successful locust breeding in just nine months, increasing the number of insects buzzing over the Arabian desert roughly 8,000-fold. Each of these locust swarms are anywhere between 8-10 kilometres in length and 2-3 kilometres in width and consists of millions of locusts.

Effects on India

Locusts are voracious feeders. They have the ability to destroy large agricultural fields in just a matter of hours. They are fast breeders and can migrate over very large distances easily.

Over the last few weeks, these locust swarms have entered India from Paksitan through Rajasthan. According to the Locust Warning Organization (LWO), the locust swarm that has entered this year are a major threat to agriculture, especially in western parts of India, as the locusts that have entered this year are immature locusts with a greater life span. Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh might be staring at a agrarian disaster. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has always warned that these locusts are a great threat to global food security.

According to the East Punjab Agricultural Pests, Diseases and Noxious Weeds Act (1949), the District Collector can call upon any male above the age of 14 years to render assistance to the authorities to help contain an outbreak of such notorious pests. Those who refuse to cooperate with the district administration can be penalized and even be imprisoned. Such a drastic provision was included in this legislation to help the district administration to fight against the infestation of such pests and this highlights the threat posed by the desert locust swarm to Indian agriculture and food security.

In 2019, the monsoon season was supposed to be affected by the El Nino phenomenon, but India and East Africa received a record rainfall. The primary reason for this record rainfall is the positive Indian Ocean dipole. Climatologists and meteorologists believe that global warming and climate change were directly responsible for this Indian Ocean dipole. This record rainfall led to locust outbreak. So this shows that it is futile to blame any particular country because the increase in the intensity and frequency of such disasters is a result of human greed.

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