India suffers worst locust invasion in almost 30 years

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India suffers worst locust invasion in almost 30 years

Indian farmers and officials are using drones, fire trucks, firecrackers, and banging pots and pans to scare them off.

A huge outbreak of locusts have begun attacking the western part of India in Rajasthan, threatening the agricultural supply of the entire region.

Swarms of desert locusts, pushed by strong winds in the wake of Cyclone Amphan that slammed into India and Bangladesh on May 20, have crossed the border from Pakistan. Desert locusts are a particularly threatening breed because they breed quickly and can travel long distances. Adult locusts can fly up to 150 kilometers (93 miles) a day and eat their own body weight -- equal to 2 grams -- worth of fresh vegetation in that period. A swarm can vary from one to several hundred square kilometers -- with each square kilometer containing up to 80 million adult locusts. Because of this, they pose a real threat to vegetation and agricultural life.

"Lighting a fire, bursting crackers, banging plates and tins, and playing the drums as well can chase locusts away, these insects can't tolerate loud noises," an advisory issued to farmers read.

The swarms have gone through Uttar Pradesh -- which borders the capital New Delhi -- in the north, Madhya Pradesh in central India and Maharashtra and Gujarat in the west. Rajasthan, the area that bore the original brunt of the invasion, has been conducting daily operations to dispel them, using tractors, fire engines, and drones to push the swarms away and to hit them with water and pesticides. 100 tractor-mounted sprayers and 20 fire engines across 11 districts have been attacking the swarms, killing up to 70% in some areas.

"The locusts were sitting in an area that was 7 kilometers (4 miles) long and 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) wide. We started the control operations around 1 a.m. (Tuesday) along with the Locust Organization team," said B R Karwa, a deputy director of Rajasthan's Agriculture Department.

"Several successive waves of invasions can be expected until July in Rajasthan with eastward surges across northern India as far as Bihar and Orissa followed by westward movements and a return to Rajasthan on the changing winds associated with the monsoon," according to the Desert Locust Situation Update issued by the FAO.

While locust storms can be catastrophic, this one has done comparatively little harm, as farmers haven't begun planting crops for the new season.

"The locusts were sitting on barren land. The winter crops have been cut and it hasn't rained yet so the new season's crops have not been sown. Those who planted fodder crops or vegetables could chase the locusts away. This time, there wasn't much loss," said Karwa.

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