Govt caught flat-footed as locusts enter country

Kathmandu, June 27

In contrast to the government’s prediction, a few groups of desert locusts have been located in five districts of the country so far.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development today confirmed that locusts had entered the country and were seen on Thursday night.

According to MoALD Spokesperson Hari Bahadur KC, desert locusts have been seen in Sindhuli, Bara, Parsa, Sarlahi and Rupandehi so far.

“As per the Meteorological Forecasting Division, the wind has been blowing from the south to the north since the last two days due to which a few groups of locusts have split from their swarm and reached here,” KC said. He further mentioned that the locusts were on the move and the ministry was tracing them.

Meanwhile, provincial governments have allocated technicians in the respective areas to find other details regarding the locusts.

The ministry has also called a meeting tomorrow with stakeholders regarding the issue, KC added.

“Earlier, the wind was blowing from the east to west but then we received information from the meteorological division regarding the change in the wind’s direction,” he said, adding, “Since then our taskforce has been working to prevent the impact of locusts.

However, these are very small groups of locusts, so the taskforce believes they may not have a major impact on our crops.”

The MoALD had formed a taskforce coordinated by Sahadev Humagain, chief of Plant Quarantine and Pesticide Management Centre, on May 27 to study the possible impact of locusts and how to prevent them from destroying crops. A week after its formation, the taskforce had submitted a report to the ministry predicting less possibility of locusts entering Nepal. However, that prediction failed due to which farmers are worried at the moment.

“This is the vegetable season and maize crops are also growing.

Moreover, paddy plantation has started. The locusts could destroy all our corps,” said Navaraj Basnet, president of Nepal Farmers’ Group Federation. The federation has been informed about the locusts and a meeting of farmers has been called tomorrow in the affected districts.

“The farmers were already troubled by COVID-19 and now the locusts have posed another major problem,” Basnet said. “It will not only affect farmers but also create food crisis in the country.”

As the locusts eat all green plants and crops, the country may face a food crisis, according to him. “The government has to take immediate action to prevent destruction of crops,” Basnet stated.“Once it starts to destroy crops, it will be difficult to contain them as these are flying insects and have a huge appetite,” he said, adding, “By this time the government should have taken action instead of collecting details and holding meetings only.”

Dilli Ram Sharma, former director general of the Department of Agriculture, said the government had enough time to prepare for the situation. “The MoALD had formed a taskforce a month ago to prevent the impact of locusts, which means the government should have been ready to take action instead of just holding meetings,” he said. “It is necessary to minimise the population of locusts immediately otherwise it will have an impact on crops,” Sharma informed.

According to him, a group of 100,000 to 200,000 locusts have entered Nepal, while a single swarm includes 40 to 80 million of the insects.

“Although the groups are just a part of the swarm, more locusts may enter the country if the wind changes direction,” he added.

According to Sharma, desert locusts are passive at night, thus, the government must use pesticides on them at that time to cull their population.

“Meanwhile, farmers could use loud decibel noise to scare away locusts because they cannot tolerate high volume,” he added.

Prior to this situation, the insects were seen in Nepal way back in 1962. Back then, the swarm had attacked crops in Kathmandu, Nuwakot, Dhading and a few other districts causing huge damage.

A version of this article appears in e-paper on June 28, 2020, of The Himalayan Times.