Image source: nytimes.com
There has been an outbreak of Locust swarm in some regions of Nepal. Initially spread from Africa, it entered India through the western state of Rajasthan on May 13, 2020, and Nepal via Varanasi, India, as the wind has been blowing from west to north for two consecutive days.
So what is Locust?
Locusts are a very special kind of grasshoppers that can be found in two stages i.e solitary and gregarious. While in the solitary stage they appear as an ordinary grasshopper but appear distinct and grouped in the gregarious phase. With suitable environmental conditions and rainfall, the increase in number and sense each other's presence. They undergo remarkable changes that include morphological changes (size, color), the triggering of serotonin in their brain, causing abundant breeding, and thus resulting in the gregarious phase. There can be about 70-80 million locusts in a swarm and each locust(weighing about 2 grams) can eat plants equal to its weight in a day. Imagine 80 million locusts feeding for a week, it would result in unthinkable damage to the agricultural sector. They can cover the area over 30km long and 2km wide. Locusts are found to fly in swarms and can travel up to 150 Km per day. They go with the flow of the wind and hit a stop when they desire to feed and destroy the vegetation of the place. It was reported that a swarm in north Kenya to be 25 miles long by 37 miles wide — it would blanket the city of Paris 24 times over, doesn’t that sound nightmarish? Locust swarms devastate crops and cause major agricultural damage, which leads to starvation.
The primary effort is conducted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which runs the Desert Locusts Watch to surveil and track locust migration patterns and oversee regional response efforts. Chemical insecticides are sprayed either from the ground or the air to clear the pests out but it will eventually harm the biodiversity and human life.
Nepal experienced its first swarm attack in 1962 but faced its worst fate in 1996, which destroyed 80 percent of crops in Chitwan and partially damaged crops in the Makwanpur, Mahottari, and Bara districts. Right now the swarm may seem in little amounts but it may increase in no time and harm the agriculture field irreversibly. World pandemic COVID-19 has already left people in an economical crisis and now, with the rise of Locust Swarm, the situation is sure to worsen.
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. Food and Agriculture Organization has declared the desert locust to be the most dangerous of all migratory pest species in the world. The solution to this issue is quite challenging as the condition of the nation is still shaken from the world pandemic COVID-19.