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Locust Invasion – Role of Climate Change & Threats to Food Security

Locust Invasion – Role of Climate Change & Threats to Food Security

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), locust invasion has caused an unusual threat to food security and livelihood in parts of East and West Africa, South West Asia, and India. Such invasions are usual. However, their frequency and scale in recent times seems to be unusual. It said that the climate change and associated extreme weather events are to be blamed.

Desert locusts:

  • Desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria), which belong to the family of grasshoppers, normally live and breed in semi-arid or desert regions.
  • As individuals, or in small isolated groups, locusts are not very dangerous.
  • But when they grow into large populations their behaviour changes, they transform from ‘solitary phase’ into ‘gregarious phase’, and start forming ‘swarms’.

Hotspots for locust threatening activity:

  • The Horn of Africa, the worst affected as swarms increase in Ethiopia and Somalia and spread to other countries within a 200-km radius.
  • The Red Sea, affecting the Sudan-Egypt border.
  • Originating at the Indo-Pakistan border; and Southwest Asia, causing damage in Iran, India and Pakistan.


How this invasion began:

  • The above large-scale breeding and swarm formation, is due to the above average rainfall in these hotspots.
  • East Africa, in fact, had its wettest rainfall season in over four decades even during October-November.
  • This led to large-scale breeding and hence the swarm formationthat started arriving in Rajasthan during the first fortnight of April.
  • Threat to India:
  • In India, the locusts have struck Rajasthan and Gujarat and destroyed nearly 7 hectares of farmland.
  • Punjab and Haryana have also reported a presence of locusts since April 2020.
  • According to experts, locusts breed in rainwater and areas hit by cyclone
  • Climate changehas played a role in worsening the locust problem in India, which could worsen with temperature soaring in the coming months.
  • change in cyclonic invasionand unexpected rainfall leads to locust invasion and breeding.
  • According to the agriculture ministry’s Locust Warning Organization, it is a time of concern as locusts have been sighted earlier to their breeding season (July-October) in India. They can have devastating effects on the Rabi crop in Rajasthan and Gujarat.
Gregarious Phase: In this phase individual locusts group together to form swarms.Gregarious locusts are colorful, move faster, and are attracted to other locusts. It is in this phase that locusts form the oppressive swarms that can blacken the skies and decimate crops. Locust Control & Research (LCR) (Under Ministry of Agriculture and farmers welfare) The Locust Warning Organization includes activities viz. :-Regular extensive survey and monitoring of locust population in scheduled desert area (SDA) (Rajasthan, Gujarat and part of Haryana) which is kept check on local breeding and invasion of locusts besides control of its population.Research on the efficacy of native and exotic bio-agents for control of locusts and grasshoppers through biological means protects the environment from ill effects of chemical pesticides. The Locust warning organisation comes under the Directorate of Plant Protection under the Agriculture ministry. Early such events: A swarm flew from northwest Africa to Great Britain in 1954 and another from West Africa to the Caribbean in 1988.  

What is the relationship between locusts and and climate change:

  • During quiet periods—known as recessions—desert locusts are usually restricted to the semi-arid and arid deserts of Africa, the Near East and South-West Asia.
  • In normal conditions, locust numbers decrease either by natural mortality or through migration.
  • However, the last five years have been hotter than any other since the industrial revolution and since 2009
  • Studies have linked a hotter climateto more damaging locust swarms, leaving Africa disproportionately affected. 
  • Wet weather also favours multiplication of locusts.
  • Widespread, above average rain that pounded the Horn of Africa from October to December 2019 were up to 400 per cent above normalrainfall amount.
  • These abnormal rains were caused by the Indian Ocean dipole, a phenomenon accentuated by climate change.

How India is handling the situation:

  • The Rajasthan government has requestedthe Centre for INR 200 crore in assistance to cover the losses incurred by farmers due to locust swarms.
  • The Locust Warning Organisation (LWO) has a ground team of 50 people mainly to monitor and track the swarms.
  • Drones are being used for aerial spraying of Malathion 96, an organophosphate insecticide and a potentially toxic chemical for non-cropped areas.
  • For areas with agriculture, chlorpyrifos is sprayed by drones, fire brigades and tractor-mounted sprays.
  • Farmers have arranged water tankers, usage of chemicals, disinfectants, beating utensils etc.

What is needed:

  • This calls for an integrated approach with improved monitoring, surveillance and investment in a preparedness plan to make vulnerable nations more resistant to locust threats.
  • There is a need to provide social protection like insurance to farmers and producers through effective governance.
  • India should take the lead in combating this issue. It could call for close cooperation with neighbouring states affected by the locusts.
  • Mitigation and adaptation measures are needed. Agriculture should be made resilient.
  • Scientific and cost effective ways to fight such future attacks is needed.

Source:”ORF/FAO “.

Possible UPSC CSE Mains Question:

Discuss the impact of the recent locust attack on food security of the nation. How is it related to climate change?