The UN issued a warning a few weeks ago, of the numbers of desert locusts swarming across a large portion of Eastern Africa. The epidemic is the worst seen for decades and has eaten crops in countries with poor food security, like Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. It is not just in African countries, but in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India and China have also been greatly affected by desert locust swarms.
No way to deal with a swarm of locusts is effective. They are difficult to predict occurrences and movements and move very quickly in wide, often very remote areas. Pesticides from airplanes and drones can be sprayed on them. Mauritania has been lauded for taking this proactive strategy before the gregarious process begins.
A locust plague is a common catastrophic tragedy. Across history, these infestations have been taken seriously and fearfully. They still wreak havoc today, unfortunately.
Locusts are related to grasshoppers and they appear just like each other. But the behavior of the locusts can be completely different. Locusts are sometimes lonely creatures having their cycle of life like grasshoppers. The locust color also changes: the single adults are of brown color, while the pink ones are immature locusts and yellow adults mature swarms.
Nevertheless, locusts have another level of activity called the gregarious period. In circumstances where many green plants are available and breeding could be promoted, locusts can gather in thick, mobile ravenous swarms.
Locust swarms devastate crops and cause severe agricultural loss and consequent human misery including drought and hunger. It is found in many parts of the world, but in sustenance farming regions of Africa, it is the most destructive locust today.
The Desert Locust is notorious (Schistocerca gregaria). They exist in some 60 countries, covering one-fifth of the earth’s surface, and are located in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Desert Locust could endanger one-tenth of the world’s people’s economic lives.
A desert locust swarm is 460,000 square miles in area and clustered in less than a half square mile between 40 and 80 million locusts. An adult of Desert Locust can eat around two grams a day in fresh foods of its own weight. A very small proportion of the swarm average (or about a ton) could eat as 10 elephants, 25 camels or 2500 persons the same amount of food in one day.
A Desert Locust lives total for about 3-5 months, although this is extremely variable and mostly depends on conditions and ecology. Three stages are included in the life cycle: embryo, hopper and adult. Hoppers develop in five or six steps over a period of about 30–40 days, and adults mature in about three to nine weeks but more often two or four months, with a span of about two to six weeks, the egg hatches that could be 10-65 days.
Desert locusts lay eggs mainly at a depth of 10-15 centimeters beneath the surface in the sandy soil in its egg pods. A solitary locust lays approximately 95-158 eggs, while a gregarious lay normally fewer than 80 in an ovarian pot. Women can usually lay after 6-11 days at least 3 times in their lives. In one square meter, up to 1000 Egg pods were found.
Years of drought, followed by heavy rainfall and warmer temperatures in 2019 have created’ exceptional’ conditions for locusts in Africa and that’s the region from where this plague originated. Due to the wet warm weather, foliage has become suitable for developing crops and greater growth means more food for the locusts.
There are many reasons why fighting the Desert Locust is difficult. Some of them are:
Yet, in terms of the lack of periodicity of such events and the unsure rainfall in the locust regions, the issue with forecasting outbreaks is challenging.
The primary tool for managing Desert Locusts Swarms and hopper bands is at present with organophosphate chemicals, used by vehicle-assembly and air sprays and to a smaller extent by a knapsack and hand-held sprayers, in limited condensed doses (referred to as Ultra-Low Volume (ULV) formulation).
The range of adult locusts is so wide that for effective monitoring international co-operation is crucial. A swarm may come from Asia, but it may destroy crops in Africa devastatingly. Sixty Asian and African countries are being endangered by desert locusts swarms.
The best way of controlling the movement of the hopper bands is by distributing a poisonous trap such as insecticide-containing bran. Through consuming them and through contact with their skin, the insecticide could be consumed by them. Only when the location of hoppers is known, poisonous bait may be used and close watch to large areas must be held, to ensure that swarms come out as quickly as possible.
Many strategies used include the use of aircraft or motor vehicles for spraying insecticides over hoppers or adult swarms, or for spraying weeds in the direction of locusts. If the egg-laying area is known, an insecticide can be sprayed in the vegetation area that kills locusts at its first meal. The concern with any spraying methods, in particular when used in food crops is that the chemicals used can be harmful to human beings and other species.
For many years, effective control programs have been in place for two more pests, the red locust, and the migratory locust. Nevertheless, the desert locust is still a major threat. There needs to be ongoing international monitoring and coordination if crops are to be safe from this pest.
The current issue is whether or not the dangerous nature and risk of propagating the insecticides is a cost-efficient way to control the desert locust. Nevertheless, new and safer insecticides continue to be produced and farmers who are endangered by locust plagues will certainly want to continue control measures.
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28 March, 2020