locust swarms attack

The Locust Attack -‘Tiddi Dal’

The Locust Attack -‘Tiddi Dal’

While locusts are seen in India normally only during July-October and mostly as solitary insects or in small isolated groups, their being spotted along the India-Pakistan border before mid-April this time has raised the alarm bells, and comes at a time when the country is battling the  novel coronavirus pandemic.

In the beginning of this year as well, major locust attacks had been observed in several countries in western and southern Asia and in eastern Africa.Pakistan and Somalia had declared locust emergencies.In India, they caused damage to the growing rabi crops along western Rajasthan and parts of northern Gujarat during December-January.

What Are Locusts?

Locust is an omnivorous and migratory pest and has the ability to fly hundreds of kilometers collectively. It is a trans-border pest and attacks the crop in large swarm. Found in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, they inhabit some 60 countries and can cover one-fifth of Earth’s land surface. Desert locust plagues may threaten the economic livelihood of one-tenth of the world’s human population. Swarms of locusts in the desert come to India from Africa/ Gulf/ South West Asia during the summer monsoon season and go back towards Iran, Gulf & African countries for spring breeding.

  • Locusts are a group of short-horned grasshoppers that multiply in numbers as they migrate long distances in destructive swarms (up to 150km in one day).
  • The swarms devour and  destroy plants by their sheer weight as they descend on them in massive numbers.
  • Four species of locusts are found in India: Desert locust , Migratory locust , Bombay Locust and Tree locust.
  • The desert locust is regarded as the most destructive pest in India as well as internationally, with a small swarm covering one square kilometre being able to consume the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people.
  • They are polyphagous, i.e. they can feed on a variety of crops. Secondly, they have an ability to multiply rapidly. A single female desert locust lays 60-80 eggs thrice during its roughly 90-day life cycle.
  • The damage of locusts in India has been limited only because of the country hosting a single breeding season — unlike Pakistan, Iran and East Africa, where they also multiply during January-June.


Cause of the present locust upsurge, particularly in East Africa:

It lies in the Mekunu and Luban cyclonic storms of May and October 2018 that struck Oman and Yemen, respectively. These storms converted large desert areas in remote parts of the southern Arabian Peninsula into lakes, which allowed the insects to breed undetected.

The Climate Change Link:

A phenomenon called the Indian Ocean Dipole, in which the western and eastern parts of the ocean, warm differentially, tends to have an outsized impact in bringing excessive rains to India and West Asia. A ‘positive’ dipole is when the western part is hotter by a degree or more than the eastern. Last year saw one of the strongest positive dipoles in the Indian neighbourhood which brought on a difference of more than two degrees.

The Indian Ocean Dipole was so strong that it over-rode concerns of a drought in India last June and brought torrential rainfall — the most India has seen in decades. It also lasted nearly a month more than what is normal. This extended rainfall continued in several parts of West Asia, Oman, Yemen and in the Horn of Africa — Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya — so much so that that the dry sand became heavily moisture laden, facilitating the formation of several locust swarms. While this dipole was beginning to take shape by late 2018 — and locust outbreaks were growing in Africa — it increased last year. Due to favourable winds, it helped swarms to fly and breed in traditional grounds in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.


Spread Of the Global Crisis- The Locust Attack:

  • The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations has currently identified three hotspots of threatening locust activity, where the situation has been called “extremely alarming” — the Horn of Africa, the Red Sea area, and southwest Asia.
  • The Horn of Africa has been called the worst-affected area
  • In southwest Asia, locusts swarms have caused damage in Iran, India, and Pakistan
  • Locusts are being seen in areas not historically associated with such sightings — Jaipur, MP’s Gwalior, Morena and Sheopur, and recently stray swarms in Maharashtra’s Amravati, Nagpur and Wardha.This is because there being no crops in the fields, the locusts have moved across states attracted by green cover.

  • In India, locusts attacks emanating from the desert area in Pakistan have struck parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat in the past few weeks, causing heavy damage to standing crop.
  • The last outbreak in India was reported in 1993.
  • However, not much damage to crops is reported as sowing has not taken place in most of the areas and harvest of winter crops is over.
    Cotton crops in some areas of Rajasthan and Punjab besides pulses and vegetables have been affected by locust attack. But we have to control locust completely before sowing of Kharif crops begins in June.

Measures Taken by India:

The union government is coordinating with states governments to restrict locust attacks. 89 fire brigades for pesticide spray, 120 survey vehicles, 47 control vehicles with spray equipments and 810 tractor mounted sprayers have been deployed for effective locust control, as per requirement during different days.

Delhi Governments Advisory suggest  that four chemicals – Melathion 50% EC, Melathion 25% WP, Chloropyriphos 20% EC and Chloropyriphos 50% EC – should be diluted in water and sprayed as pesticides on crops in the evening to prevent locust attacks.

  • India has a locust control and research scheme that is being implemented through the Locust Warning Organisation (LWO), established in 1939 and amalgamated in 1946 with the Directorate of Plant Protection Quarantine and Storage (PPQS) of the Ministry of Agriculture, according to the PPQS.
  • The LWO’s responsibility is monitoring and control of the locust situation in Scheduled Desert Areas, mainly in Rajasthan and Gujarat, and partly in Punjab and Haryana.
  • The Ministry of Agriculture said control operations have been stepped up and drones will be deployed for aerial spraying of insecticides in the affected states.
  • The government has also placed an order for 60 spraying machines from United Kingdom-based company Micron, and two firms have been finalised to supply drones for aerial spraying of insecticides over tall trees and inaccessible areas.
  • India is most at risk of a swarm invasion just before the onset of the monsoon. The swarms usually originate in the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa

Health and Environmental Impact of Locust Control Measures:

Adequate locust management implies mitigating and monitoring the potential impact of control operations on human health and the environment with a view to limit any negative side effects due to pesticides, their storage, handling, transport and spraying.

The main human health issue is related to the use of inappropriate pesticides and formulations and/or unnecessary exposure during pesticide handling, transportation, storage and spraying operations. 

Special emphasis must therefore be given to mitigating impact of locust control on human health and the environment, with adoption of appropriate behaviours and specific measures before, during and after control operations. 

  • Systematic use of personal protective equipment (PPE) by staff involved in control operations and pesticide management;
  • Well-trained staff carrying out control operations in the respect of good practices, including with sprayers properly calibrated and used;
  • Use of updated and efficient techniques (such as barrier treatments and ULV) as well as less environmentally hazardous pesticides, in particular alternatives to conventional pesticides (i.e. Insect Growth Regulators –IGRs- and biopesticides), and formulations (such ready-to-use ones); 
  • Respect of protected areas and buffer zones;
  • Adequate pesticide management, i.e. handling, transportation, storage;
  • Collection and disposal of empty pesticide containers;
  • Timely information and awareness raising of local populations, including on withholding and re-entry periods for humans and livestock, pre-harvest intervals, no re-use of empty containers, etc.

Relevant for GS PAPER 3

Sources:The Hindu,The Indian Express,FAO

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