Alliance against locusts by Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani

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Pakistani farmers, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, are now facing another severe crisis in the form of locust attacks. There are a number of photos viral on social media in which local farmers are seen struggling desperately to save their crops. The crisis is so bad that the government has already declared a nationwide emergency and is asking the international community for support in this critical time.

Locusts belong to certain species of grasshoppers, and are normally harmless in nature. It is believed that they do not pose a major economic threat to any kind of agricultural crop. However, climate change has provided suitable conditions to transform them into a serious threat to the agricultural sector in many countries.

Desert locusts have reportedly started their journey from the Middle Eastern deserts, and entered Pakistan via Iran. During their journey towards India, considerable quantities of crops, in over 60 districts across the country, have already been destroyed. According to the media, the cotton crops of southern Punjab faced major destruction in recent days. The deserts of Tharparkar, Sindh and some areas of Balochistan also provide locusts a favourable environment for reproduction. In this way, their number is increasing horribly and rapidly.

Agriculture is considered the backbone of Pakistan’s national economy, which depends heavily on its two major cropping seasons. However, it is unfortunate that food security has never ever become part of any government’s top priority. Even, today, it can be seen that poor farmers are being left alone merciless in the battle against locusts.

No doubt, the FAO role is laudable in the sense to issue warnings frequently. However, it has become our national norm to not take action on time. I remember that almost four months before the emergence of the recent sugar crisis, I had warned about this on various occasions, including high-level government meetings and TV talkshows. Alas, we missed the opportunity to take action in a better way.

Similarly, it seems that today we are lagging far behind to devise a concrete strategy to overcome the locust crisis. In my view, the invasion of locusts is directly related to the regional climate change situations. Moreover, no single country is capable of combating this crisis individually. Our neighboring countries, Iran and India, are also badly affected with the ongoing crisis.

India has recently forwarded a proposal seeking to team up with Pakistan and Iran for coordinated efforts to control the invasion of desert locusts. According to media reports, Iran has welcomed the said proposal. India has offered to supply 20,000 liters of the pesticide Malathion, which has been found very effective for anti-desert locust operations, to Iran.

Reportedly, India is also interested to provide similar support to Pakistan. The Foreign Office has confirmed that India is proposing to form a trilateral response in partnership with Iran to fight against locust invasion. Pakistan has not responded to India so far.

Despite border tensions, it is a good sign that cooperation between India and Pakistan has already been going on to ensure food security in both countries. In this regard, teams of locust experts from both sides used to hold regular meetings, either at Khokhropar on the Pakistani side or Munabao on the Indian side, to discuss the latest situation and exchange information.

In my view, establishing such a trilateral institutionalized mechanism to control the locusts is the need of the time. In the future, Middle Eastern and African countries could also be considered to join the alliance. We must not forget that if India and Iran jointly take the lead to control locusts in their respective areas then still locally reproduced locusts would remain a severe threat for Pakistani farmers. Due to this, the price hike may also result into another kind of food crisis. Therefore, we must focus on devising a comprehensive strategy for collective struggle against locusts in the best interests of our own people.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani

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