Locust Swarms in India Explained.

June 01, 2020, The Liberacy:- Locust swarms in India has not only threatened farmers but also the Economy, directly or indirectly.

What are Locusts?

Locusts are classified as short-horned insects native to Grasshopper family. Locusts are closely related to the Acrididae sect, which is the predominant type in the Grasshopper family.
It is this closeness of Locusts to the Acrididae that has caused the Swarms because the Acrididae family has the Swarming phase at suitable conditions.

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But what are these Suitable Conditions for Locusts to have a Swarming phase?

Locusts are usually considered to live a solitary life, that is they prefer to live a lonely life. They turn gregarious with drought conditions followed by rapid vegetation growth.
This is the most important condition that makes “Serotonin” (5-HT) in their brain to trigger a dramatic set of changes and makes them gregarious.
5-Hydroxytryptamine (5-HT/Serotonin) is a monoamine neurotransmitter that invokes as a contributor to feelings of “Well-being and Happiness” in Locusts.

What happens once they gain these changes?

Once they become gregarious, they start more breeding. A female adult locust can lay 80-90 eggs thrice in its life-cycle of three months.
They become Nomadic as there is a sudden boost in the population and have enough density.
After going through the above initial stage they form bands of wingless Nymphs, and at a faster rate they gain the phase of “Winged Adult”, and this when they start to form Swarms.
The Swarms of Winged Adult Locusts travel at a speed of 150 km/day, across borders they attack to eat vegetation.
1 square km of locust can eat crop fields that can be used as food for about 30000 people.
An adult locust can eat as much as its weight in a day.

Locusts are Harmless to Humans.

History of Locusts.

Locusts are not new to mankind, they are here since humans came into existence. During the prehistory era (3.3 million years ago to 5300 years ago) they have been causing plaques.
Locusts have a vast mentioning in Iliad (Homer), Mahabharata, Bible, and Quran.

At present, where did they come from?

2018 Cyclones. Mekunu of Oman and Luban of Yemen were so devastating that they caused the dry desert patches to form Lakes. They wiped out the dryness and became suitable for Locusts to breed at a faster rate.
This fast rate for reproduction continued till mid-2019.
Locust Swarms were at the peak in November 2019 in Africa, mainly in Ethiopia and Somalia (Horn of Africa).

It began a built-up in South Iran and Pakistan by the beginning of 2020, followed by heavy rainfall in East Africa.
On April 11, these Locusts were first sighted in India across the India-Pakistan border.

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The current situation in India.

Locusts were first sighted in India this year on the 11th of April across the India-Pakistan border in Rajasthan (Sri Ganganagar & Jaisalmer). But, this time there was a slight mismatch in the timing of Locusts Attack. The usual time of arrival of Locusts in India is around July to October. But this time the Swarms arrived early.
Researchers have said, that this early arrival of Locusts has saved the early sowing of Rabi crops, as Kharif crops have already been harvested.

Locusts are attracted to Green Cover, and so they are continuously moving in the east direction. There are 4 Swarms in Rajasthan and 3 Swarms in Madhya Pradesh. Of these swarms, some have also attacked in the North Gujarat and East Maharashtra.
Farmers from Nagpur (Maharashtra) have shown their concern for the threat of Locusts to Oranges, but the administration has said that these Swarms in Nagpur are small and can be handled easily.

Swarms are monitored in India by the Agriculture Ministry’s Locust Warning Organisation (LWO). Formed in 1939, by combining Standing Locust Committee 1929 and Central Locust Bureau 1930.

How did the British face the Locust Outbreak in India?

Locust outbreak in India also happened during the Indian colonial era by the British. The major outbreaks happened in the years 1812, 1821, 1843, 1863, 1869, 1878, 1889, and 1896.
British were as worried as any government could be, but the reason for worry here was the extent of exploitation might go down. That means, less revenue, as it directly affects the agrarian economy.
Obviously, British India never wanted to lose a fight to Insects so they arrived at some conclusion and provided for some solutions.

First, they tried to destroy the breeding grounds and locust larvae. For this, they used oil-tarred screens (Cyprus screens). Everything in this context was NOT effective. A failure.

The second method they used was “Net Method”, where they used large nets to catch and kill the Locusts. But, for this large manpower was required and hence, Indians were recruited to a large extent, but, with keeping the caste in mind. Majorly only lower caste people were engaged in this job.
The higher caste refused to carry into the job, thus, the British first threatened that no amount will be paid for the crops damaged by Locusts and then they offered Cash to the job, which was happily taken by the people of the lower caste.

After a prolonged period, the British looked at the Syrian Model of handling the situation, where they used birds that can eat locusts.
Birds like Rosy Pastors, Domestic Fowls, and Partridges were involved. This proved much effective than manpower and less expensive.

Locust Control Measures in India presently.

Spraying of insecticide containing an appropriate quantity of Metarhizium Anisopilae Fungus is used, which is organic in nature.
Organochlorine, Organophosphate, Carbamates, and Synthetic Pyrethroids are some of the other chemicals used for spraying on Locusts to kill them.
At the hilltops or mountainous ranges, drones are used to spray such chemicals.

Chances are that if not controlled in the early phase, these locusts will boost its population with the arrival of Monsoon in India, as it is when they start laying eggs.

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