Ill-preparedness or oblivion

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Federal Information Minister, Shibli Faraz said in a press conference that a locust attack has happened after 27 years and a locust control cell is being established to face this challenge. It is pertinent to mention that over the past five months all four provinces of the country had witnessed recurring locust infestations. After the first attack, Minister for National Food Security Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar had visited certain areas in the Southern Punjab. However, nothing was heard about the locust control strategy of the federal government, leaving it to the provincial governments to evolve ones for this purpose.

The Information Minister told that presently locust swarms are damaging crops in five divisions of Punjab, some areas of Baluchistan and Dera Isamil District in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. He disclosed that another locust attack on Pakistan from Africa is expected in early July, assuring that the incoming menace can be tackled as pesticides in sufficient quantizes and six airplanes for areal spray are available, while three more airplanes will be in the fleet for this task in mid-July.

In a follow-up National Disaster Management Authority has come up with a vivid picture of ongoing locust attack. According to its spokesman, 61 districts across the country are under attack, including 31 districts in Baluchistan, 12 in Punjab and 11 in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. The authority spokesman told that 1,150 teams are doing field survey to evaluate damage caused to various crops. The survey of around 31, 3000 hectare of land has already been completed.

Pakistan has witnessed two such swarms of this migratory insect since December last year, which caused 25-50 percent damage to Rabi crops in all four provinces of the country. The impact of infestation could not be mitigated because of poor coordination between the federal and provincial governments, dearth of much needed insecticides to smash the adult locust and eliminate the chances of its breeding in addition to lack of aircrafts in the required number for aerial spray. The government of Sindh repeatedly demanded for the supply of six aircraft from the federal government but the province was provided only one aircraft.

In the previous two locust attacks, Rabi crops in 38 districts of the country had been decimated. The Ministry of National Food Security is jointly planning with a UN funded NGO, Agriculture Working Group to gather data about the losses to the economy, which is still predominantly agrarian. The preliminary estimate on the damage to the Rabi crops in the current fiscal year is valued at $6.6 billion. The plantation of Kharif crops such as rice, maize, cotton and various vegetable has been started. If a strategy of coordinated efforts is not worked out by the central and provincial governments, then as per FAO foretold prediction, monetary losses to economy may be around $8.7 billion in addition to posing the threat of food insecurity and affecting thousands of households that are involved in the enterprise of farming on tenancy basis.

Although agricultural sector is the mainstay of the economy by contributing around 20 percent of country’s gross domestic product and provides employment to 60 percent of working force, yet over the past five decades successive governments neglected the formulation of long term agriculture policy that also include the vital component of crops protection against insects and pests attacks, diseases, and climate change impact.

The country is entirely dependent on the imported insecticides and pesticides, the cost of which is no longer affordable for small farmers. The swarms of Schisteerca gregari—commonly known desert locust—had entered from Iran against which the neighbouring country had given an advance warning. The lethal insect eat anything and everything from tree barks, cereal crops, cotton crop, sugarcane, fruits, vegetables and flowers. If effective preventive measures are not taken against another attack in July, then risk of food insecurity cannot be ruled out.