PESHAWAR: In recent months, food security concerns have emerged for across province as swarms of desert locusts wreak havoc on crops, especially in the southern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). While the damage isn’t currently being felt in Peshawar, However, agronomists believe that locusts still have the potential to destroy standing crops in entire Peshawar Valley.

After damaging crops in Balochistan and Sindh, locusts have swarmed KPs’ 15 districts, forcing the government to declare emergency in the province. However, the Provincial Disaster Management Agency (PDMA) believes that the locust attack in the province isn’t as severe as it was Balochistan and Sindh provinces. However, according to agronomists, locusts still have the potential to swarm entire province and decimate all kinds of crop in their way, consuming everything from leaves and grain, to pastures and even trees.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), PDMA, Plant Protection Agency (DPP), Agriculture Department and Army have been working together to contain the locust attacks.    PDMA Director General Pervez Khan, said the desert insects are under full control in Peshawar, Nowshera and surrounding areas, so their focus is on the areas where their presence is high such as southern districts of the province.

The DG-PDMA furthered that his department was working with the agriculture department to tackle the problem and so far spray has been completed on more than 54,000 acres of land. “At the same time, in collaboration with the NDMA, we have are using GPS devices to identify locust swarms and the department send teams to the area as soon as it get a report of a locust swarm,” Khan said. The PDMA has declared Nowshera and Peshawar safe from locusts and asked farmers and to contact authorities on helpline 1700 in case of locusts attack.

Mian Jan, a farmer in Nowshera, says the locusts have swarmed his farm fields and he is trying to save his crop by spraying it to poisons. Jan said that his sugarcane crop was destroyed for which he not only called the agriculture office of his area but also the head office of Peshawar several times for help but each time he was disappointed. “As soon as we breathe a sigh of relief after spraying all over the fields, the next day more locusts attack the crop,” Jan lamented.

According to agronomists, locusts thrive in monsoon areas, where the humidity is high. That is why if it is not eradicated by the next monsoon season, it is likely to completely covercome Nowshera, Charsadda, Mardan, Swabi and all other districts. Currently the districts that have been attacked by locusts include Dera Ismail Khan, Tank, South Waziristan, North Waziristan, Lakki Marwat, Bannu, Karak, Kohat, Karam, Hangu, Nowshera, Orakzai, Peshawar, Khyber and Bajaur.

The crops, fruits and vegetables that are being grown in these areas these days include maize, sugarcane, cotton, various vegetables and pears, plums, peaches, canes, lychees and mango orchards.

In January, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned rising locust swarms are “extremely alarming and unprecedented threat” to food security and livelihoods. Besides Pakistan, the desert locust have infested crops Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, India, Iran, Yemen, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

The locust is an insect that eats all kinds of fruits, plants and leaves. The first major locust attack in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa took place in 1963. Crops in KP were last attacked by locusts also in 1993. At that time, the people of this province also used to eat locusts because they believed it be a halal worms. Apart from Arab countries, it is also eaten with great relish in some parts of Sindh and Balochistan.

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