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Balochistan Prepares To Fight Locust Invasion

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Busy with whistles and keeping his hand clapping, Amanullah, a landowner from Sibbi district of Balochistan, tries to drive away a locust swarm.

He used to get his family’s yearly revenue from agriculture on a 300-acre piece of land. But this year, even as the spring season is at its peak, the green lush farms around his land will not be yielding much. This is because of the ongoing locust invasion in the region.

These locusts from the Middle East had made their way to Balochistan. As the spring started and Amanullah’s lush green fields of wheat, melon, watermelon and vegetables needed to grow for another month, the swarms of locusts arrived.

“We try our best to oust these locusts from our fields, but they’re in millions. They’ve eaten all the lush fields around”, says Amanullah. “The government is never seen here to help us overcome these locusts’ wrath. They have left nothing for us. And look all around, they’re eating everything green comes in their way.”

Balochistan, much like the rest of Pakistan, has been affected by the Coronavirus outbreak. Cases of the infection were reported first from Balochistan as pilgrims returned from Iran via the border crossing at Taftan. The same routes from the west have been used by locusts coming all the way from Yemen and other African and Middle Eastern countries.

Ashraf, another farmer from the Harnai district of Balochistan’s Kost region says, “We would grow garlic, onions, oats and wheat but the locusts invaded our agricultural lands in the month of December last year. Since we are having warmer weather than the rest of the province, these locusts came here in the start of January 2020.”

He describes the efforts of local cultivators to fight the swarms of voracious locusts:
“Only my children and I were the ones who would start pushing back these locusts coming to our lands as a black shade. We were able to survive somewhat owing to cold breezes which started after the snowfall near Ziarat district. Otherwise they would have devastated our region.”

“Beginning in mid-2018 […] a major upsurge of Desert Locust began to develop in the Arabian Peninsula as a result of two cyclones that brought heavy rains to the Empty Quarter along the borders on Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen”, reads a report on the Desert Locust by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). “This resulted in three generations of breeding and an 8,000-fold increase in locust numbers during from mid 2018 to early 2019 in an area where survey and control activities could not be conducted due to the extreme remoteness of the area.”

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Arif Kakar, Director of Agriculture in Balochistan, confirms that the second phase of the locust invasion came through Iran via Africa and the Middle East. “On 16 March we were informed that the locusts had invaded the Kolanch region in Balochistan. These locusts lay 80 to 100 eggs in a day. The little ones who come out from the eggs are the most dangerous – eating out all vegetation that comes in their way. They’re now in our warm zones: Gwadar, Lasbela, Khuzdar, Awaran, Barkan, Nushki, Sibbi, Chaghi, Harnai, Dukki and Dera Bugti districts. They will go from here to the Indian region of Rajasthan.”

The FAO’s coordinator Habib Wardag says that the UN organization has provided the National and Provincial Disaster Management Authorities and the Agriculture Department with logistical support to keep them operational: in the form of fuel for their transport, spray machines and the medicines needed for sprays.

Wardag says, “FAO has created an app that measures the movement of the locusts and farmers can easily upload photos of the invasion. The government agriculture ministry and plant protection departments can more easily access the region through the use of the Global Positioning System (GPS)”.

Moreover, at the moment, the plant protection department lacks the required staff for such disasters, notes Wardag.

The DG Agriculture Balochistan Arif Kakar says, “FAO has provided the department with logistics, but the government did not take the problem seriously and delays in the bureaucratic channels wasted our time.”

He continues:

“We have 166 teams, each composed of 6 members across the regions – where they spray regularly to control the locust invasion. But we don’t have the required human resources to control things in June and July where the influx of these locusts would escalate and it would be harder to control them.”

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Sana Baloch, one of the opposition members in the Balochistan provincial assembly, says:
“More than 32 billion rupees have been lost owing to the invasion of locusts in the province. This would directly impact the farmers and their livestock. There should be a way to facilitate them in making up for losses, through aid to these agricultural zones.”

Balochistan already has a two-decade history of very harsh droughts that impacted both agriculture and livestock, notes Haji Abdul Rehman Bazai, the General Secretary of the Zamindaar Action Committee. “On the first arrival of the locusts, the orchards, trees and fields were not ready to bear fruit and vegetables. This resulted in much loss in the wheat fields but in rest of the agrarian regions losses were lower to the farmers and land owners. Now, even though the government is busy with nominal sprays, once the season of fruits and vegetables arrives in the exact time of the locust invasion, it would be disastrous – and the warmer areas in Balochistan are going through this phase.”

Attaullah Mengal, the deputy director of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority, says that the locusts’ first invasion made for only 1% losses to agriculture. “The Plant Protection Department funded PDMA with 10 million rupees while the Chinese government provided sprays. PDMA supports the Agriculture Department for logistics, fuel and sprays.”

“We have contacted the National Disaster Management Authority: we’ve asked them for the help amid the current locust invasion in Balochistan. This would need helicopter sprays because the area is vast. Otherwise the locusts would become more dangerous and harm agricultural activities far more.”

The spokesperson for the Balochistan government, Liaqat Shahwani, seconds the idea of the helicopter spray request to the National Disaster Management Authority. “The government has asked the National Disaster Management Authority to provide us 6 helicopters for spray to counter the locusts’ invasion.”

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