Locusts are a group of short-horned grasshoppers in the family Acrididae that have a swarming phase while multiplying in numbers as they migrate long distances in destructive swarms.
There are four species of Locusts found in India. They are Desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria), Migratory locust (Locusta migratoria), Bombay Locust (Nomadacris succincta), and Tree locust (Anacridium sp.).
The desert locust is considered as the most destructive pest in India as well as internationally, with a small swarm covering one square kilometre being able to consume the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people.
Why are Locusts in news?
Locusts are at the center of debate due to major attacks observed in several countries like India, Pakistan, and East African Countries.
These swarms of Locusts travel long distances, quickly eating leaves, flowers, fruits, etc and inflict heavy damage to plants and crops as they descend on them in massive numbers.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization(FAO), there are three hotspots of threatening locust activity (where they are most threatening)- the Horn of Africa, the Red Sea area, and Southwest Asia.
They migrated in large swarms from these hotspots to the parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat causing heavy damage to standing crops.
Climate change is being held responsible for their numbers to surge.
Indian Ocean Dipole is responsible for the increase in rain over the east of Africa thus creating moist and favorable breeding environment thus increasing their numbers to such a large extent.
How to control Locusts Swarms?
Controlling these pests are really important as they can have devastating impact on agriculture, thus effecting farmers.
The most commonly used control method is spraying insecticides from land or aerial vehicle. The insecticide commonly use is Malathion.
Although, this method has environmental concerns as insecticides can be harmful to crops and the environment.
Natural predators like wasps, reptiles, birds, can help keep small swarms at bay.
Use of newly developed microbial pesticides can help in controlling locusts.
The government’s initiative to control Locusts swarms – Locust Warning Organisation (LWO), Directorate of Plant Protection Quarantine and Storage, Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, is responsible for monitoring, survey, and control of Desert Locust in Scheduled Desert Areas mainly in the States of Rajasthan and Gujarat.