The ongoing locust attack in Pakistan has become a much bigger risk than the coronavirus pandemic as they may affect agriculture output and threaten food security, said a report published in Bloomberg News.
Falak Naz, director general of crop protection at the Ministry of Food Security and Research, told the publication that the locust-invasion now covers an area of 57 million hectares, which includes 23 million hectares of a total crop area of Pakistan.
Naz said that the areas attacked are not crop lands but warned that the swarm was moving fast.
The agriculture sector, which now faces devastating losses, has forced the authorities to divert the money, originally earmarked to fight the coronavirus, to help combat the scourge now.
“This is a bigger problem than the coronavirus for Pakistan,” said Ahmad Jawad, a fruits exporter and an adviser to the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industry told Bloomberg.
“You can save yourself from coronavirus by maintaining social distance, but there’s no escaping a hunger crisis if the locusts attack,” he added.
According to the publication, the crops have already been damaged by the swarms, with cotton crop being seen as the most vulnerable. Cotton-based products also make up about half of the country’s exports.
The US publication has forecast that the locust attack will further worsen the outlook of Pakistan economy’s and may shrink for the first time in 68 years.
This is not the first time that a locust attack has hit Pakistan, last year a swarm had arrived from Iran, but this year’s is the most severe in three decades.
According to Bloomberg, Swarms of desert locusts occur irregularly in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, usually when drought is followed by heavy rain.
Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has redirected the release of 132 million rupees earmarked for coronavirus emergency measures. He also approved another 286 million rupees for the purchase of chemicals and 25 pesticide-spraying vehicles.
The publication reported that locusts have damaged wheat, oil seeds, pulses, fodder and vegetables in Sindh in more than 166,701 hectares or 13.8% of the province’s total cropping area. The threat also poses a risk to Sindh’s cotton, sugarcane and other crops which are sown in over more than 1.75 million hectares.
However, the DG crop protection at the food security ministry told Bloomberg that the government is using four aircraft and half-a-dozen army helicopters for crop dusting. He added that ministry is also hoping to buy six planes from Air Tractor Inc.
Meanwhile, farmers are using novel techniques such as beating drums and revving tractors to scare away the swarms that have been moving at 90 miles/hour.
Chief Executive Officer of Arif Habib Commodities Ahsan Mehanti has warned that locust attack may wipe out 40% of Pakistan’s major crops.
“This is a major threat,” Mehanti said. “Pesticides should be procured to completely eradicate the locusts and save the crops.”