The threat of locust attack in Pakistan if not effectively controlled could lead to a mammoth Rs 817 billion worth of agricultural losses, warned State Bank of Pakistan in its report ‘The State of Pakistan’s Economy.’
The central bank said that Pakistan has tackled the menace of desert locusts before. In 2019, the Ministry of National Food Security and Research’s (MNFSR’s) Department of Plant Protection (DPP – the lead institution in charge of managing the Desert Locust threat in Pakistan) surveyed an area of 932,580 hectares, treated 300,595 hectares in three provinces, and sprayed 150,839 liters of pesticides during control operations.
Despite these efforts, a more severe threat posed by the Desert Locusts emerged in H2-FY20 as new swarms originating in Africa continued to move east.
Reports indicate that as many as 61 districts had already been impacted by locust swarms by end-May 2020, with Balochistan being the worst affected province.
While the detailed assessment of quantum damage to crops is still forthcoming, the initial estimates indicated that over 115,000 hectares of crops (including wheat, oil seed, cotton, gram, fruits and vegetables) had been affected, according to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2019-20.
Should the control operations not be effective, the resultant losses could be severe, as evident from potential damage scenarios cited by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO):
Scenario 1: 15 percent damage level, for wheat, gram and potato production only. Estimated losses to agriculture from locust invasion: Rs 205 billion
Scenario 2: 25 percent damage level. Potential losses for (a) Rabi crops: Rs 353 billion; and (b) Kharif crops: Rs 464 billion
Mindful of the development, Pakistan declared a national emergency on locusts on 31st January 2020, calling upon the National Disaster Management Authority, Provincial Agriculture Departments, and the armed forces to join the DPP in mitigation efforts. A National Action Plan for Surveillance and Control of Desert Locust in Pakistan is duly being rolled out, consisting of three phases: Phase 1: Jan-Jun 2020; Phase 2: Jul-Dec 2020; and Phase 3: Jan to Jun 2021.
In the first phase, the country has already taken several measures to combat the threat, including treating a vast portion of the area deemed to be vulnerable. In addition, the Plant Protection Department is hiring a large batch of technical experts on an emergency basis to help deal with the locust threat, while Micronair sprayers have also been procured to enhance control operations.