Asim Tanveer And Munir Ahmed Associated Press
An invasion of locusts has spread across Pakistan, officials said Friday, causing damage to crops and orchards and posing a threat to food security in an impoverished Islamic nation already struggling to tackle a virus pandemic that has caused more than 1,300 deaths.
Massive swarms of the desert locust, which experts say originates in Africa and is the most destructive of the locust species, began damaging crops in Pakistan last month.
But the situation worsened this week and authorities began dispatching aircraft and spraying machines filled with pesticides mounted on vehicles to eliminate the insects, which are roughly the length of a finger and fly together by the millions.
Farmers could be seen wading through clouds of the insects as some tried to kill them with sticks.
Chaudhry Asghar, an agriculture officer in the Punjab provincial capital of Multan, said millions of desert locusts had already damaged orchards, crops and vegetables.
“We have intensified efforts to save our crops from any further invasion of locusts,” Syed Fahar Imam, national food security minister, said Friday. He said the government will buy five more aircraft for spraying crops.
The insects have wreaked havoc on swathes of farmland in eastern Punjab, southern Sindh and southwestern Baluchistan province. They also attacked crops in the northwest bordering Afghanistan.
The locusts have also brought agricultural destruction to neighboring India, where critics pointed the finger at Pakistan as a new breeding ground for the desert locusts. Pakistani officials said no country should blame another for the situation, but all affected countries need to make collective efforts to prevent a possible food crisis in the region.
Farmers say while crops of rabi, a type of grain, were sown in winter and harvested in the spring, locusts are damaging cotton and vegetable crops sown in April.
The current upsurge in desert locust attacks could turn into a full-fledged global plague by the end of the year if it spreads to West Africa and the insects begin breeding there, says the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s senior locust forecasting officer Keith Cressman.
A changing climate and the recent cyclonic activity have brought the swarms into India earlier than expected and driven them further east than usual, he added.
“Locusts don’t like urban areas, they will simply overfly the urban areas. They will make enough of a bother to scare people, [but] they don’t attack humans, of course. There’s not much to eat in urban areas. They’re not good at eating cement and concrete, they really like to eat the natural vegetation,” he said on Friday, speaking at a webinar organised by the Centre for Science and Environment.
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