Drones deployed to spray pesticides as India battles locust invasion
New Delhi - Swarms of desert locusts have become the latest threat faced by coronavirus-hit India, with states scrambling drones and teams to spray pesticides to prevent crop damage from the worst locust attack in almost three decades.
Crops and vegetable plantations in several states, including Rajasthan, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh are in the path of the insects.
Footage on local media showed swarms of locusts descending on farm produce as farmers tried helplessly to disperse the insects.
The government has stepped up its response with locust containment measures and a pesticide-spraying campaign which includes use of drones to fight the locusts that have already devastated crops across Pakistan and East Africa.
Operations were being conducted in 303 locations spread over 47,000 hectares across several districts of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, agriculture ministry spokesman Praveen Kavi said on Thursday.
Tractors, fire engines and other vehicles were also used for spraying pesticides to kill the insects.
Videos posted on social media show the swarms in residential areas of cities like Jaipur. Unable to find crops to feed on, the locusts had started destroying trees.
Locals and farmers banged on pots and plates and tried blaring music from loudspeakers on vehicles to ward off the insects, the India Today news magazine reported.
One government official noted that the swarms had arrived in the lean season between the previous harvest and the oncoming planting season, meaning crop damage could be limited.
However, farms of vegetables, pulses and cotton crops have already been attacked by the locusts which devour "any sort of vegetation or green," he said.
"We will have to stop the locusts over the next few weeks since they pose danger for the monsoon-sown crops. The locusts breed in summer and we expect the second wave of [locusts] in monsoon rains after July, which will be a crucial time when the new crops could be devoured," he added.
This is the worst locust infestation India has seen since 1993 but swarms are not new to the country. The insects arrive from Pakistan between July and October and mostly affect the north-western Rajasthan state, said KN Gurjar from India's Locust Warning Organization.
This time, their "uncontrolled population" in neighbouring countries aided by weather conditions have seen kilometres-long swarms enter India.
Swarms of desert locusts have also been attacking entire areas of East Africa for months leading the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization to warn about threats to food security in the region.
The desert locust is among the most dangerous migratory pests in the world. A square-kilometre swarm can consume the equivalent of food for 35,000 people in one day, UN agencies have warned.dpa