Pakistan’s worst locust plague in decades has devastated parts of the south west as swarms have ravaged wheat, cotton and vegetable crops, farmers’ leaders said.
The country is battling its worst infestation of the marauding insects since the 1990s and a swarm earlier this month descended on the port metropolis of Karachi for the first time since the 1960s.
Locusts struck first earlier this year, but the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation has warned a serious threat remains as swarms now start to leave their summer breeding grounds along the India-Pakistan border.
The insects are hitting some of the poorest rural parts of Pakistan, where malnutrition is already common and farmers are often heavily in debt.
Zahid Bhurguri, general secretary of the Sindh Chamber of Agriculture, said the attacks had destroyed up to 40 per cent of crops as swarms plagued Tharparkar, Mirpur Khas, Sanghar, and different districts of Karachi. Wheat, cotton and tomatoes had all been ravaged, he said.
“The farmers are very worried as they have seen their crops being destroyed in front of their eyes. These farmers should be compensated,” he told the Telegraph.
Locust swarms can fly up to 90 miles per day and if good rains fall and conditions are favourable, can increase their numbers 20-fold in three months. Locust adults can eat their own weight every day and a swarm can consume vast quantities of food.
Almost all crops and non-crop plants are vulnerable and the insects are one of the biggest threats to food security in large parts of the world. Shahnawaz Baloch, a 39-year-old farmer at Gaddap on the outskirts of Karachi said the locusts had destroyed his eight acre carrot crop earlier this month.
“We are trying to run the locusts away through self help as the authorities haven’t extended any help. We despite all efforts are unable to save our crops due to massive attack” he said. “It was an army of locusts which landed at our lands and destroyed the crops in a while,” he said. “The locusts attack has deprived us of our crops, our livelihood.”
Locusts impact much of the Middle East and Asia and officials have blamed the chaos in war-torn Yemen for this year’s blight in Pakistan. A failure to control the pests in Yemen meant they gradually grew in number as they passed through Saudi Arabia and Iran before entering Western Pakistan.
Swarms have now started to leave their summer breeding grounds along the border with India and head West, according to the latest UN bulletin.
Muhammad Tariq Khan, director of the government’s plant protection department, played down the threat, saying locusts would not damage crops in their next migration, but the UN has warned they “may threaten agriculture areas in the Indus Valley of Pakistan”.
“Millions of these locusts are present in Pakistan at present,” said Syed Nadeem Shah, vice president of Sindh Abadgar Board, an elected farmers’ body. “It is the responsibility of the federal government to take measures to prevent them, but no definitive steps have been taken.”
He claimed that from a fleet of potentially 21 crop spraying planes, only two were airworthy.
“Thirty per cent of crops have been completely destroyed.” Cotton had already been badly hit by rains, he said, before the locusts arrived. Many farmers rely on harvest to pay off loans from earlier in the year and the poor crops had left them facing ruin, he said.