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Locusts in Nepal

Locusts in Nepal

Published Date :28 Jun, 2020


The world today is fighting the grave effects of the corona virus pandemic. But a couple of weeks before the pandemic, African nations including Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, and Ethiopia among others had started reporting a swarm of insects eating their crops away. The same locusts were reported to have started travelling eastward. So far, they have reached Iran, Pakistan, and India. In around 1962, locusts in Kathmandu and adjoining areas created havoc. They destroyed acres of crops. According to agriculture history books. The same species of insects that originates from Africa is possibly on its way to Nepal via Iran, Pakistan and India once again.

Months ago, when the outbreak was seen in nearby Indian provinces, Government officials of Nepal, had dismissed fears, saying there is no indication that locust swarms are headed in Nepal’s direction, and that there is no need to worry. But a few location including Sarlahi, Bara, Parsha, Kapilbastu in province 2, Sindhuli, Dhading, Kathmandu, Chitwan and Makwanpur Bagmati province and Dadedhura Sudur Pachchim province, Palpa, Kaski, Tanahu, Lamjung and Gorkha 5 province have reported locust (salah) outbreak few days back. Similarly, some social medias posted having seen same species of insects in Sankhamul, Kathmandu and there were anecdotal reports from Patan as well.  The possible incoming of the locusts in Nepal has drawn the attention of many including the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development. Plant Quarantine and Pesticide Management Centre Chief Sahadev Humagain says the locusts are a real threat to any agricultural area as they eat away everything, leaving the land barren.
Locusts (salah) are related to grasshoppers which have been feared throughout history. These insects form swarms that form can be dense and highly mobile. Locust swarms are typically in motion and can cover vast distances some species may travel 81 miles or more a day. They can stay in the air for long periods, regularly taking nonstop trips. A Desert Locust lives a total of about three to five months. The life cycle comprises three stages: egg, hopper and adult. It lays its eggs, about 60,000-80,000 in number, under sand, and does it three times in its lifetime
A Desert Locust adult can consume roughly its own weight in fresh food per day that is about two grams every day. A very small part of an average swarm eats the same amount of food in one day as about 10 elephants or 25 camels or 2,500 people. For the Desert Locust, favorable conditions for breeding are

(i) Moist sandy or sand/clay soil to depths of 10-15 cm below the surface.
(ii) Some bare areas for egg laying.
(iii) Green vegetation for hopper development.

Recently, the locust has destroyed 500,000 hectares of crops including wheat, mustard, maize, and spices in areas of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh of India and is has caused similar damage in Pakistan and other affected countries as well. In the context of Nepal, the outbreak of locust has just started to spread in some areas. Last year in 2019, locust were detected in Itahari, however they did not cause any major damage. Prior to this, the insects were seen in Nepal way back in 1962. Back then, the swarm had attacked crops in Kathmandu valley, Karve, Nuwakot, Dhading and a few other districts damaging a large number of crops. However, we don’t have exact data of the damages. Since then the insects have not been seen in Nepal. The damage that the insects have caused in other countries is alarming and we have to be prepared. Although this is not new to the Nepali agriculture sector, it is completely new for the present generation.

Given the nature of the insects, countries around the world are using biological methods and alternative agriculture models under the integrated pest management (IPM) technique to combat its effects. Many African nations are using heavy machines to spread pesticides while others are using helicopters also. Some common pesticides include Malathion and Fenitrothion. It is important that the countries spread pesticides even before the arrival of the locusts (salah). And, some African nations successfully analyzed and spread pesticides before the infection could go worse. Somalia has already announced a national emergency. India has also formed the Locust Warning and Control System under its Council of Agricultural Research along with separate departments in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Pakistan also announced a national emergency last year to control the crisis. In the past, Nepal had the same outbreak and was handled effectively. Meanwhile also, Nepal is making its efforts to control the outbreak effectively.

Considering the past, one can assume that Nepali districts near the Indian states mainly Uttrakhand and Uttar Pradesh are at a higher risk. Hence, there is a higher risk of the locusts entering Nepal from the western and south-western sides. Before analyzing the impact of the insect on Nepal, one must first look at the impact on India.  This year, the outbreak is getting the favorable environment to spread. On the other hand, the two to three weeks from the onset of monsoon is the most favorable environment for the locusts to reproduce, which increases the chances of spread in Nepal even more.

According to the experts, the cause of the increasing size of locusts is the changing climate. Their population in the world has increased by 8,000 times. Such an increase had been recorded in the past as well where the cause was found to be the dryness in the environment. With that, its obvious that Nepal will also be facing their impact sooner if the proper control measures are not taken. Taking this into account, the government of Nepal is making plans in efforts to prevent locust outbreak. The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development (MoALD) has formed a taskforce to prevent possible impact of locusts on the agriculture sector of the country. A meeting chaired by Agriculture Secretary Rajendra Prasad Bhari has formed the taskforce which will be coordinated by Sahadev Humagain, chief of Plant Quarantine and Pesticide Management Centre. According to him, the taskforce has been directed to study the possibility of locusts entering the country and to recommend possible measures to control the outbreak.

The immediate actions Nepal can do to prevent spread of the locust outbreak can be as follows:

• Trace the path of Locust spread in different states of India.
• Enlist Locusts as a possible Dangerous insect species and discuss the managerial policies to be ready for the outbreak.
• Form the invasive insect management centre to study, monitor and research the insects of violent nature and then spread the information to the farmers.
• Work collaboratively with governmental and non-governmental organizations as well as teams and universities conducting agricultural research to come up with short-term and long term plan.