Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the water-induced calamities like floods and landslides, Nepal is now facing one more challenge of saving crops from locusts. The crop-devouring swarms of migratory pests are reported to have invaded several districts in the Terai and some adjoining hilly ones since Saturday. A sudden change in the direction of the wind has brought the short-horned grasshoppers to the country from India. The insects eat up all the green vegetation, leaves, flowers, vegetables, fruits and seeds. Earlier, government officials in Nepal, however, had presumed that the harmful insects would not enter the country this time around. But the unexpected influx of the pests has created widespread fear among the farmers that they could cause huge damage to crops, resulting in food insecurity in the country. If these small but aggressive swarms of insects are not contained urgently, the country may face a scarcity of food in the days to come. Nepal is already a food-deficit nation. It is worth mentioning that these insects have wreaked havoc with the life of farmers in several parts of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran for the last few months.
Like other harmful pests, locusts damage crops in no time. They travel in droves and eat up crops. It is said that each of one-square-kilometre swarms includes up to 40 million insects. They are among the fastest travelling pests. They often travel up to 400-km in a day. These insects, therefore, are very detrimental to the agriculture sector. And food security becomes a major concern. A study suggests that an average small locust swarm can eat as much food in a day as about 35,000 people. With the paddy plantation work going on in full-swing across Nepal, the influx of these insects has worried farmers that their paddy sprouts might be damaged. Maize is a major crop that is now full grown in the farms in the Terai as well as hilly areas. The invasion of locusts could result in low production of maize and other food items.
The pests, according to the news report published in this daily on Sunday, have been seen in different parts of Rupandehi, Sarlahi, Bara, Parsa, Sindhuli, Palpa and other neighbouring districts. As its prompt response to the unanticipated invasion of pests, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development (MoALD) called an emergency online meeting on Saturday to discuss ways to deal with the locust invasion. The meeting dwelled on how to minimise the possible damage to be caused by the insects. The MoALD has enhanced coordination with State governments and other relevant agencies to control the insects and protect crops. It has also mobilised technical teams to study the pests and keep the damage to minimum. Spraying pesticides in the farms could be a preventive measure to chase away the pests but it can have adverse environmental consequences, too. Farmers can also beat utensils and drums to drive the locusts away. Meanwhile, some local governments have begun offering locals a certain amount of money for collecting the pests. This scheme could be more effective as the monetary incentives easily motivate them to hunt down the insects.