Locust Swarm in India (2020): Another Plague After Covid-19?

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The critical and noteworthy events of 2020 have jolted the world out of its peaceful bubble. If issues like the Covid-19 pandemic, the nationwide CAA-NRC protests, the heatwave in North India, and Cyclone Amphan in Odisha and West Bengal were not enough, Indians have another problem at hand. That is the locust swarm (2020) going on in India.

India is currently facing the worst swarm attack that the country has seen in almost three decades! Although a swarm of mere grasshoppers may seem like a minuscule concern in the context of the novel Coronavirus outbreak, the locust plague has caused unprecedented damage in times when the nation is already in an exposed and vulnerable state. So, what is this new setback, and how is India dealing with it?

What are Locusts?

A locust is a kind of short-horned grasshopper which comes from the family of Aciridae. Locusts primarily feed on green vegetation like crops, fodder, and pasture. Unlike other varieties of grasshoppers, these desert locusts develop certain specific behavior patterns and habits when they unite in a large number. In a phase known as their gregarious phase, the serotonin in their brain sets off a series of changes that lead to excessive breeding among them. Although they are innocuous and harmless when they are lone, dense populations of locusts can prove to be catastrophic for crops and the farmers depending upon them.

Desert locusts can travel at a speed of as high as 150 km per day during their’ swarming phase’. It is the locust swarms in this very gregarious phase that are grossly affecting several parts of India right now.

What is the Locust Swarm in India (2020)? 

Millions of locusts have gradually made their way into the Indian mainland causing extensive damage to standing crops and the agricultural economy. They seem to be moving ferociously and are overtaking every bit of greenery that they encounter along their way. We are now calling it the Indian locust plague of 2020. This is the first time locust swarms take place in the country since 1997! People are taken aback as authorities grapple with ways to contain this odd phenomenon.

Although scientists predicted the locusts swarming phase to begin around July or August, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change noticed the emergence of locust swarms in India as early as 11th April 2020. Owing to the high-speed winds attributed to Cyclone Amphan and other weather conditions, locust swarms gained momentum. Moreover, the Indian mainland’s extended monsoon season further aids their breeding process at an unprecedented rate.

Unlike the Bubonic Plague of the 19th century, which killed more than 15 million people, the locust plague is wiping out millions of hectares of land full of crops across the Indian mainland.

The Most Affected Areas

While Rajasthan is notably the most affected state during the locust plague, other states like Haryana, Gujarat, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Delhi also remain in high alert to counter the same. Although locusts are not generally found in urban areas because of the lack of greenery, we can note that Jaipur is one of the epicenters of the locust plague of 2020.
Urban areas such as Delhi are currently on high alert as neighboring states continue to deal with the locust swarms. Entomologists note that Delhi is particularly vulnerable to locust swarms because of its sizeable green cover.

Why Is the Locust Plague of 2020 Catastrophic? 

Although you may think grasshoppers are harmless creatures that you spot on idle hot summer days, these desert locusts are the most dangerous migratory pests, and an uncontrolled number of them can devastate the country’s agrarian sector completely! Various crops such as cumin, wheat, and mustard, are already destroyed in two of the worst-hit areas, namely Rajasthan and Gujarat. Locusts generally stay in India only during the Kharif season, but this year’s locust swarms have affected Rabi crops too. The Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, which exercises control over locust invasions and other such outbreaks, created a stark reference and explained how such a locust swarm could consume food that is sufficient to satiate the hunger of about 35,000 human beings! (Jain, 2020, The Wire).

Locust swarms can easily become a major threat to a country’s food security and the economy. When the national economy has gone for a toss and farmers/migrant laborers are already in a grave state of crisis, the devastation of crops has become a nightmare. In a country like India, where the majority of the population depends upon the agricultural sector for earning their livelihood, the locust plague almost destroys the very foundation of their existence!

What is the Reason Behind Locust Swarm in India (2020)?

The most significant reason for the locust swarm attacks in India is climate change. We can think of it as a consequence of a domino effect. Climate change sets off a chain of events that ultimately lead to one of more catastrophes. The Australian bushfires at the beginning of 2020 are a classic example of this domino effect.
As mentioned earlier, the locust swarm attacks have a relation to the recent cyclone Amphan which, in turn, was a result of climate change in the country.

Recent Updates in India

  • Rajasthan Government has announced a compensatory relief package worth Rs. 31 crores. Four of its most affected districts, namely Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Barmer, and Jalore will receive aid through this package. The compensation will only apply for damaged agricultural land up to 2 hectares because of the financial strain the country is facing due to the Covid-19 outbreak. 
  • The locust swarm has split into two in Maharashtra. One of them is swiftly moving towards the Nagpur region, and the other has entered Bhandara. 
  • Experts dismiss the theory that locust swarms are moving towards Mumbai, wherein people are already in a state of panic due to an increased number of Covid-19 cases. 
  • Many districts in the Uttar Pradesh border, which are in the vicinity of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh’s borders are now on high alert. 
  • The Locust Warning Organisation has ordered for sprinkling chemical insecticides through various means such as trucks, fire brigade vehicles, and even drones.
  • The Odisha government, which is already grappling with the consequences of Cyclone Amphan, has issued particular guidelines for farmers, warning them to take precautionary measures against the locust plague. 

 The locust plague of 2020 is a massive catastrophe. Not only is it devastating for India’s large-scale agricultural sector, but it also creates a strain on our economy, which is already struggling due to the lockdown phase of the Covid-19 outbreak. While every penny is a bid towards uplifting the healthcare of the country, nature takes its toll on the agrarian sector as well.

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