Monday, May 25, 2020

Locust Plague Spreads

Further to the article in the current issue of the Socialist Standard concerning the plague of locusts, the situation has now worsened. Heavy rains on the Arabian peninsula in 2019 triggered explosive growth in the locust population, and they began causing problems in India, Pakistan and a number of African countries last year.

Farmers across Pakistan are suffering the worst plague of locusts in recent history, which has caused billions of dollars in damage and led to fears of long-term food shortages. The Pakistani government declared a national emergency this year after the locusts began to decimate winter crops. The first swarm came from the United Arab Emirates in mid-2019, and in the next few weeks time a new infestation is expected to arrive from Iran. Pakistan will incur losses of about £2bn in winter crops, such as wheat, and a further £2.3bn in the summer crops being planted now, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Mir Gul Muhammad, a farmer in Balochistan province, was blunt. “The worst that we have ever seen, ever, in our whole life,” he said of the swarms of locusts that descended on his village of Gharok. “I cultivated around 50 acres of cotton crops and all of them have been eaten and destroyed by locusts,” he said. “Besides cotton, my other crops – onion, chilli and tomato – have been affected badly too. It is a loss of around 10m rupees [£51,000]. As a farmer, it will take years to recover from this loss.”

In Sindh province, Moti Lal said his livelihood was destroyed last week in one fell swoop.

“All my green crops, such as wheat and mustard, were attacked and ruined by locusts,” he said. “We had borrowed 40,000 rupees [£400] through micro-financing schemes to invest in farming. Now, all that amount is gone.”
This is economically devastating for a country where agriculture accounts for 20% of GDP and 65% of the population live and work in agricultural areas. Pakistan is already suffering from crippling inflation, which is now at a 12-year high, and the unprecedented economic burden imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. The cost of flour and vegetables had already risen 15% this year, and the locust infestation could make even basic food staples unaffordable.

Ismail Rahoo, state minister of agriculture for Sindh, described the plague as a “dangerous and catastrophic threat to the economy, agriculture and food security in Pakistan”.

“This year it will be ten times worse than last year. They are attacking from three sides,” he said. “The locusts and their eggs have now covered 50,000 square kilometres of farmland. We are expecting them to infest more than 5m hectares. And they are not just attacking Sindh province, but also the agricultural areas of Punjab and Balochistan.”
Muhammad Akram Dashti, a senator from Balochistan, says, it is too late. ‘“Many people will starve,” he said.

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