Locust outbreak, worst in decades, hits northwestern Pakistan

Special Locust outbreak, worst in decades, hits northwestern Pakistan
A locust is captured on camera sitting on the ground in Kerri Shamozai, a small town on the outskirts of Dera Ismail Khan, on Jan. 20, 2020. (AN photo)
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Updated 21 January 2020

Locust outbreak, worst in decades, hits northwestern Pakistan

Locust outbreak, worst in decades, hits northwestern Pakistan
  • Locust swarms entered Pakistan in March
  • KP government says will introduce emergency measures against the insect attack

PESHAWAR: Having devastated crops in parts of Sindh last year, large flocks of the desert locust are invading the swathes of neighboring Dera Ismail Khan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), farmers said on Monday.

“I’m almost 55 today, but I have never seen or heard of locusts or other insects devastating crops on such a massive scale. A huge swarm of locusts is like a well-armed battalion,” said Faiz Muhammad Khan, a farmer from Kerri Shamozai hamlet on the outskirts of Dera Ismail Khan.

“We are helpless before these locusts. We were beating drums in the middle of our crops to frighten them away. But this didn’t it work,” he told Arab News.

Desert locusts, swarming short-horned grasshoppers, have been destroying crops in Africa and Asia for centuries. Their ability to move in huge swarms with great speed makes them one of the most devastating agricultural plagues.

In January last year, the locusts flew from the Red Sea coast of Sudan and Eritrea to hit Saudi Arabia and Iran. Their swarms entered Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province in March.

Earlier this month, the KP provincial government requested 33 districts to present preventive and mitigation strategies against the outbreak of locusts, said Muhammad Naveed, deputy director for plant protection at the KP Agriculture Extension Department.

According to the letter – of which copy was seen by Arab News – following the insect attacks in Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab, all KP districts were required to chalk out plans for the mobilization of their field staff, and to ensure that they had sufficient amounts of pesticides.

A man poses for a photo with a locust-covered tree in Kerri Shamozai on the outskirts of Dera Ismail Khan, Jan. 20, 2020. (AN photo)

He told Arab News the KP administration is now coordinating with district agriculture officers to introduce emergency measures.

“We are working out plans to control the insects’ further spread. The local agriculture officers have been issued directives already that measures be finalized to control the insects and impede their movement,” he said.

Meanwhile, farmers say the insects have been mercilessly devouring their crops and trees for the past two days.

“The locust attack is taking place in this remote region and in the bordering parts of Punjab,” said Abdul Mateen Babar, a farmer from Chad Wan, southwest of Dera Ismail Khan.

“The huge swarms of locusts have already played havoc with our crops and the KP government should adopt measures to control their further spillover,” he said, suggesting that the agriculture department should share information with farmers through social media channels and WhatsApp groups.