As if dealing with a deadly disease outbreak was not enough, it seems Mother Nature has put India to test on her finest tricks. An economy that is already brought to its knees by the COVID-19 pandemic and its resultant lockdowns and social distancing; which unsurprisingly has brought the dynamic workforce of India to a screeching halt; is now facing the looming shadows of giant desert locust swarms over its otherwise flourishing crops. Whether you call it an insult to injury or being held siege by nature’s forces, it is as if biological weapons have been unleashed to cripple Indian economy.
The desert locusts, touted as the oldest and most dangerous pests in the world have their origins in Eastern Africa and the Mediterranean have travelled through the north western frontier of India to cause widespread devastation in crop fields during a time when farmers were planting seeds of hope to revive our economy. According to scientists, desert locusts can form large swarms of more than 80 million in number due to climatic changes. The recent outbreak can be blamed on rising temperatures and subsequent Indian Ocean Dipole that has developed around the Indian ocean coastline. The swarms that have invaded India are nearly three-kilometre-long with enough destructive power to spoil crops across thousands of hectares agricultural land. What makes desert locusts dangerous is there ability to reproduce 20- fold over three months and capability of eating quantity equal to their weight daily.
The cause of concern is not just the speed of locust invasion, with states like Punjab and Haryana affected, the food bowl of India has already seen a scarcity of produce. The desert locust attack has wiped out crops spread over 5,00,000 hectares in Rajasthan. The state has been battling with the locust menace for over three months now. Gujarat has battled with the locust infestation since months now and many villages of Gujarat have borne the brunt of it. Locust swarms are currently present in 16 out of 52 districts of Madhya Pradesh, with Rs 8000 crore estimated as loss in moong crops alone. 17 districts of Uttar Pradesh, parts of Punjab, Haryana and Maharashtra have not been spared either. These agriculturally rich states are gearing up to face the heat of economic loss instead of the shower of surplus grains this year.
The state governments and the central government are trying to curb the infestation as well as they can with chemical sprays, pesticides, noises and consistent monitoring. It is however feared that enough damage has been done and India has yet to witness the worst of this new challenge.
India is primarily an agricultural country with the people of the heartland still engaged in farming. With rural India facing the adversities of migrant workers and families struggling below the poverty line that threatens to run deeper with each newer version of lockdown; the desert locust attack is a death blow. For the farmer who was looking forward to monsoon as the season of new beginnings and for the prodigal son who wanted to go back to agriculture riding on the wave of government sanctioned packages, desert locusts spell a cloudy forecast. As for Indian economy, the losses will gather up to some several thousand crores, putting an even larger question mark on its revival.