Up on the trees and down in the fields swarms of locusts are everywhere. The desert insects are sweeping across the country destroying crops and livelihoods as they fly from one province to other.

Pakistan has declared national emergency after worst locust infestation in Balochistan, Sindh, Punjab and now in Southern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The migratory insects have entered from Punjab province to Dera Ismail Khan and now devastating standing crops in Lakki Marwat district. As soon as Locust swarms entered the DI Khan, the provincial government had imposed an emergency in all the southern districts on January 29 and directed the deputy commissioners for preventive efforts.

DI Khan deputy commissioner Mohammad Amir said researchers from the agriculture department have been sent to the affected areas to not only spread awareness among locals and especially landowners but also inform them how to protect crops from locusts.

The deputy commissioner said that air spray was also being considered and as soon as preparations for this would be completed, the spray would be done by aircraft.

On the other hand, Ghulam Akbar, a journalist from Lakki Marwat, said that the district administration has not convened any meeting even days after the emergency was imposed and now that the locusts have reached the Lakki Marwat district, the officials came into action.

Ghulam Akbar further said that till now no proper instructions have been issued to the landowners by the agricultural experts nor have they started the traditional methods of sprinkling, such as drumming or noise.

 Where’s the locust come from?

Dr Inamullah, a professor at the Agricultural University of Peshawar, says such swarms of locusts were last seen in the country nearly 60 years ago.

He said that this time the locusts were born in Thar area of Sindh province and had crossed into the southern belt of Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab and entered Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. 

Shafiq Ahmad, who researches crops and insects, says that locusts are spreading over 40 to 50 kilometres of DI Khan at present and are slowly growing and moving ahead. He said that large grasshoppers travel in the air during the day and fall on the ground wherever they see vegetation while their children move forward crawling on the ground.

He said that these insects sit on the crops in the dark in the evening and stay till the sun is warm in the morning but they damage the crops during the day rather than at night. Shafiq Ahmed said that locusts lay up to fifty eggs a day and their babies grow swiftly that is what makes them more deadly.

 The role of climate change

Professor Inam says that locusts are more likely to be found in relatively warm environments which they found in Thar. He said locusts are more abundant in South Africa, where desert land is more favourable to them. Dr Inam said that since the effects of climate change on our country are more prominent and Pakistan is among the 10 countries in the world that are being affected more by the negative effects of climate change.

According to climate change experts, the average temperature in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, like other provinces of the country, has increased by one-degree centigrade over the past 15 years and is expected to rise by 2035.

On the same basis, Prof. Inam has also said that locusts and a few such insects are the product of climate change, and it is feared that in the years to come, the number of such attacks will have a direct impact on food security.

 Impacts on production

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Relief and Rehabilitation Departement has issued a notification to the southern districts said that the province is already suffering from shortages of wheat and its southern districts are very important for wheat production, the locusts swarms must be dealt with on an emergency basis and take steps to keep the crops safe.

On the other hand, Professor Inam says that wheat crop has grown quite well due to timely rains in southern districts this year, but locusts are likely to suffer considerable damage due to heart attacks. He said that despite good wheat production last year, the country and especially Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are facing a shortage of flour and if the locusts were not timely controlled, there is a risk of further devastation to the production of wheat grain. 

 Professor Inam said that the annual requirement of wheat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is up to 45 million tonnes, of which only one-fourth of the province produces itself while the rest is from Punjab and the federal government.  He said if the southern districts were affected by the high crop, perhaps they could not produce even a quarter of this year.

 He said that the government makes emergency enforcement announcements but in reality, there is no such action.  Professor Prize revealed that the government currently has only two or three ships in the country from which it is sprayed and that it is insufficient to overcome the problem.

 Professor Inam said that the locust is the favourite food of the heart, but nowadays the grass grown for livestock in the fields eat more fondly, which also causes food shortages for livestock in the affected districts.  That will result in a shortage of meat and dairy products.

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