Coronavirus, economic recession, cyclone, and now a locust attack. One problem doesn’t get over, and yet another one crops up. So what are locusts? Why are they attacking us? What are the reasons behind this? We will find out the actual reasons behind the locust attacks in India And what innovative solutions are being used worldwide to counter it from which we can learn something.
let us learn something about locusts:
Locust is an insect that is quite similar to grasshopper and cricket. In fact, all these three insects belong to the same family. Locusts are generally found in desert regions and the unique thing about this is that as compared to grasshoppers and crickets. It exists in two phases: It has two forms that are not seen in grasshoppers and crickets normally. These forms are- When it is present alone, then it looks like the 1st picture below. This is called the solitary phase But when it is present in crowds, and the environmental conditions are congenial For example, wet soil after recent rains with trees and plants in full bloom Then they transform their forms completely. They look somewhat like the 2nd picture. Then This is called the gregarious phase. This metamorphosis of the form changes everything about them- their behavior, habits, appearance Everything is different in the solitary phase and the gregarious phase So, this is something like the evolution of Pokemon. In a similar manner, it grows into another phase if environmental conditions are congenial So; we do not have a problem with the ones in their solitary phase. A problem arises when they exist in crowds and are in their gregarious phase They are yellow and black Their eating habits change in the gregarious phase. They can eat more food and more varieties of food. Their endurance increases and their movements become more rapid. Even their brain size becomes larger. What’s interesting is that they can transform into the gregarious phase from the solitary phase anytime at any point of time in their lives as long as environmental conditions for it are congenial. The apt environmental conditions are- recent rains, moist soil, and lush vegetation around. The swarms of these locusts are created in their gregarious phase. And these swarms destroy everything in their way because, as I said, their eating habits change so much that they can eat almost everything. Leaves, shoots, flowers, fruits, seeds, stems, barks- they can eat it all. They can eat almost all types of crops or non-crops be it wheat, grass, fruit trees, or date palms. This is why complete destruction follows wherever they go. How large can one locust swarm be? The swarm found in Kenya in 2020 was 40 km by 60 km in dimension. The swarm can be as large as a rectangle of 40 km by 60 km. And in a swarm, there can be over 150 million locusts within one square kilometer A swarm can eat as much as 2,500 people in one day. So you can imagine the extent of its scale and how much destruction it can cause. And this is why it is said that the locusts are a kind of species that have the most economic impact on the entire planet as compared to any other animal species. You can see the regions in which this happens- Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan, and the western part of India. They are found in larger numbers here because of the large extent of the desert areas in this region and these are the areas in which they cause the most destruction. The locust attack in India today is the worst in the past 27 years in India1993 was the last time conditions were so bad. But this is not a recent phenomenon.
These locust attacks have been happening for thousands of years throughout human history. Even ancient Egyptians had drawn locusts on their tombs. Which tells us that there had been locusts attack even in that age. These tombs are dated around 2400 BC. This is the reason why they are mentioned in a lot of religious texts- for example, the Bible and the Quran mention locust plagues. It is believed that the locust plague mentioned in the Bible happened in reality in Egypt in around 1400 BC. So, this is a problem that has been festering for ages. But climate change is indirectly held responsible for the locust’s attacks happening in India. the sequence of events of how it actually happened is very interesting. The Indian Ocean is warming up more than usual due to climate change. The rains become more extreme due to the enhanced heating of the ocean. Torrential rains hit East Africa around the time of December 2019. In fact, there were floods as well. East Africa includes- Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia. These countries were badly flooded during December 2019You can see how many people were affected due to these floods. Due to floods and torrential rains, congenial environmental conditions are created for the locusts. The soil becomes moist and there is abundant vegetation around due to rains. So this becomes a great opportunity for the locusts to breed and change into the gregarious phase. So the locusts began to breed in huge numbers there, and a plague hit East Africa. So Around February 2020, there was a huge locust plague in Africa. After this, these swarms of locusts began to travel east. It traveled to Iran, then Pakistan, and now by the time of May, this plague has begun its move towards India. The winds of the cyclone that had hit Bengal moved in such a direction and in such a way that they. They were further pushing the swarm of the locusts towards India. They wouldn’t have normally traveled this way, but they further moved in this direction because of the cyclone winds and this is exerting a very negative influence on Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi and Haryana.
So the question is what are the solutions to fight this locust plague?
The first and the most common solution adopted by most of the countries most frequently is simply spraying them with pesticides and insecticides either on the ground or in the air with the help of a helicopter and then they would die. The problem with this solution is that this has a lot of negative affects. Spraying pesticides has a negative impact in general on the environment, the people, and their food. It exerts a negative impact on other things as well. And pesticides need to be sprayed in huge quantities in order for it to show effect.
Another solution could be the use of eco-friendly pesticides. Experts have observed that the eco-friendly pesticides- the ones that do not harm the environment-do not kill them as effectively. They take some time to show effect. Hence they are not as effective. The third is the use of loud noises. The locusts flee from any kind of noises, music on a loudspeaker, or any kind of loud noise- make them scarper. This is a solution that our farmers have implemented. But the problem with this solution is obvious- It can be implemented on a very short scale. And if you drive away the locusts from one place, then they are going to attack another.
But there’s another unique and interesting solution which was tested out in Pakistan. This solution was tested out on a small scale in Pakistan’s Okara district. Basically, the farmers were asked to trap these locusts and collect them and submit them in bags. They would be paid in return for this. And then these locusts would be milled and used as chicken feed. That is, they would basically become food for chicken and help in feeding them. Because locusts are an extremely great source of protein. Now, this solution is extremely innovative. Think about it- The farmers are also making a profit in the form of money given to collect them and it is also generating profit when it is being used as a chicken feed. The credit for implementing this solution goes to Muhammad Khurshid. He is a civil servant in the Ministry of national food security and research in Pakistan And Johar Ali- a bio-technologist of Pakistan Agriculture Research Council. It was his idea. And he says that when he first broke this idea to the people, then everyone laughed Nobody thought that this idea could seriously be implemented in real. So what is the math behind this idea? The math is that he believes that first of all, the farmers can trap them easily with and these locusts do not fly in the air at night time. So they can be trapped very easily at night. They say that when the farmers collect these locusts and deliver them in bags, then they are paid 20 Pakistani rupees per kg. In India, this would amount to be around Rs 9 per kilo. The farmers are being this amount when they collect them in bags and submit them. And he also believes that the number of locusts a farmer can trap overnight. He can earn 20,000 Pakistani rupees, (that is, around 9,000 Indian rupees) in exchange for that.
He also claimed that these locusts are a source of profit for the animal feeding industry as well because when these locusts would be used as chicken feed, they have 70% proteins. As compared to soybeans which are presently used in chicken feed and have only 50% protein content. Such a high level of protein (becomes available) when Pakistan imports soybean from the other countries. So this is profitable for even Pakistan as a country. Since it would not import, then it could save up on its foreign exchange. The animal feeding industry can also save up as well by using locusts. So this idea was tested out in a small village of a district, and it was extremely successful. Now talks are in progress for its implementation on a large scale. And I believe that the Indian farmers can learn a lot from this too.
The fifth solution entails the humans themselves eating the locusts as a protein source. This is a solution that is already being practiced in a lot of areas historically. When the locust plagues struck at an early age, then the people in Africa and the Middle East ate them because since the locusts destroyed all the crops, the people had nothing left to eat. Coincidentally, it turned out to be a good protein source and a lot of people use it as a food option. Even today, locusts are an extremely popular dish in Israel. They are served in several restaurants there and the people like to eat them. And since the people have been eating it historically, this the perhaps the reason why. The locusts are considered halal in Muslim culture and are considered kosher in Jewish culture. Kosher is an eating ritual of Jews just like halal is an eating ritual of Muslims. So it is very interesting to see how people have been eating them. But unfortunately, that is not possible in today’s times because they are sprayed with so many pesticides that consuming them might be harmful to your health. And this is not a huge, long term solution anyway because even if you do eat them, how many would you have to eat to actually reduce their population. Their swarms are too large to be eaten completely. So it is better to focus on the rest of the solutions.
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