Explanation | What is locust and how is it harmful?

Leaving a devastating trail in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, swarms of desert locusts have entered the Vidharbha district of Maharashtra, heading towards Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.

So you must be wondering what kind of bugs these locusts are wreaking havoc amid an ongoing pandemic and exactly how harmful are they? Here is an explanation of the threatened locust and its behavior.

What is locust?

Locusts have always been feared and revered throughout history. Closely related to grasshoppers, these insects form massive swarms that spread across regions, devouring crops and causing serious agricultural damage. They look like regular locusts – most notably that they both have large hind legs that help them hop or hop. They sometimes share the solitary lifestyle of a grasshopper as well.

Swarms of locusts have destroyed human habitats since ancient Egypt led by the pharaohs, and they continue to wreak havoc today. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) described locusts as the oldest migratory pests in the world, with desert locusts considered the most dangerous migratory pests.

locust species

Some types of locusts found in the world.

So what is a desert locust?

The desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) is a notorious insect species and is one of about a dozen species of short-horned grasshoppers (Acridoidea) known to change their behavior and form swarms of adults or groups of hoppers (wingless nymphs). According to National Geographic, which is located in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, this species inhabited an area of ​​about six million square miles, or 30 countries, during a quiet period. During a plague, when large swarms descend on an area, this locust can spread through about 60 countries and cover a fifth of the landmass on Earth. Desert locust plagues threaten the economic livelihood of one in ten people.

Do desert locust pests occur regularly?

Well, neither the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States nor even the Locust Alert Organization of India have found any evidence of the fact that desert locust plagues occur after a specified number of years. Instead, epidemics develop sporadically. We saw this type of fast and massive attack in 1993, almost 27 years ago. It is difficult to predict how many locusts could enter the area, due to the lack of a pattern of such occurrences and the uncertainty about rainfall in locust areas. So, the solution is largely to control the attack through spraying of pesticides,” AM Bharia, a plant protection officer from the Locust Warning Organization, told The Better India.

How are locusts harmful?

So, you must be thinking, how can such small, locust-like herbivores pose threats to countries and humans? Well, it’s really simple, by eating the crops together in a unit.

The Food and Agriculture Organization says that an adult desert locust can consume approximately its own weight in fresh food per day, about two grams per day. Now, a kilometer-sized swarm contains about 40 million locusts, eating the same amount of food in one day as about 35,000 people. This comparison is based on a person eating an average of 2.3 kg of food per day, according to the USDA.

What is important here is their ability to reproduce exponentially and then form swarms. National Geographic notes that during periods of drought, solitary locusts are forced together in patchy areas of land with remaining vegetation. This sudden congestion releases serotonin into their central nervous systems which makes the locusts more sociable and promotes quick movements and a more varied appetite.

National Geographic further explains that when the rains return—resulting in moist soil and abundant green vegetation—the environmental conditions create the perfect storm, then the locusts begin to multiply rapidly and increase in number. In these conditions, they completely switch from their solitary lifestyle to a group lifestyle in what is called the social stage. Locusts can even change the color and shape of the body when they move to this stage. Their stamina increases and even their brains increase.

Which cCountries currently affected by locusts?

The Food and Agriculture Organization was concerned about the “extremely worrying” situation in East African countries, particularly in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. There, hundreds of billions of locusts are in swarms the size of major cities, causing damage to crops in their path. It is the worst outbreak in 25 years in Ethiopia, and in Kenya, the worst in seven decades.

Making their way through Africa, the locust plague has now reached Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the former Soviet republic of southern and of course, India.

Why is desert locust difficult to control?

After careful consideration, FAO has come up with the following reasons why Desert Locust is so difficult to control:

(1) The very large area (16-30 million square kilometres) in which locusts can be found.

(2) remote and difficult access to these areas.

(3) Lack of safety (eg landmines) in some areas.

(4) Limited resources for locust monitoring and control in some affected countries.

(5) Underdeveloped basic infrastructure (roads, communications, water and food) in many countries.

(6) Difficulty in maintaining adequate numbers of trained staff and working resources during long recessions when there is little or no locust activity.

(7) Political relations between the affected countries.

(8) The difficulty of organizing and implementing control operations in which the pesticide must be sprayed directly on the locusts.

(9) The difficulty of predicting locust outbreaks due to the low frequency of such incidents and the uncertainty of rainfall in locust areas.

The FAO also estimates that about one million people in the country have already been pushed into starvation by the locust infestation.

hCountries working to combat locust crisis amid COVID-19 crisis

Although the affected countries are severely stressed and plagued by locust plague, it is critical to act now to prevent further devastation and the threat of multi-year famine.

According to data from the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, the current hotspots of locust activity in the Horn of Africa and Yemen are occurring in countries already experiencing “stress”, “crisis” and “emergency” levels of food insecurity.

Therefore, to combat this crisis in light of a crisis, the World Bank Group is moving to provide flexible support to countries affected by the outbreak. The World Bank Group is coordinating closely with partners, including the United Nations and the Food and Agriculture Organization, which are leading the control effort.

In India, the primary method nowadays for controlling Desert Locust swarms is principally the use of organophosphate chemicals in small, concentrated doses (referred to as Ultra Low Volume (ULV)) by vehicle and airborne sprayers, and to a lesser extent by carry-on baggage. Back and hand sprayers.

Besides the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare, other ministries like External Affairs, Home Affairs, Defense, Earth Sciences, Civil Aviation and Communications, etc. have also come together in India to help fight the desert locust emergency.

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