From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Locusts invasion
Mains level : Locusts invasion and its threats
As another locust swarm comes from Pakistan, the spotlight is again on the India-Pakistan dynamic that has come into play.
Do you know?
The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) believes locusts have decimated close to 70,000 hectares of crops in Kenya, 30,000 hectares in Ethiopia and 42,000 hectares of crops in the state of Rajasthan.
Just so you can perhaps assess the kind of damage we are talking about here. A large swarm can eat as much as about 35,000 people in one day 😀 !
What are Locusts?
- The desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) is a short-horned grasshopper that is innocuous while it is in a “solitary phase” and moving about independently.
- These winged insects differ from normal hoppers and become dangerous only when their populations build up rapidly and the close physical contact in crowded conditions triggers behavioural changes.
- They, then, enter the “gregarious phase”, by grouping into bands and forming swarms that can travel great distances (up to 150 km daily), while eating up every bit of vegetation on the way.
- If not controlled at the right time, these insect swarms can threaten the food security of countries.
India reaches out to Pak
- The Ministry of External Affairs said that it has reached out to Pakistan for cooperation, and is awaiting their response.
- Despite the ups and downs in the bilateral relationship, cooperation on the locust warning system has survived the wars, terrorist attacks, and political turmoil.
History of outbreaks in India
- Records suggest that since the beginning of the 19th century, there have been at least eight “outbreaks” in India from 1812 to 1889, and a ninth in 1896-1897.
- According to the history of the Locust Warning Office published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), there were “serious invasions” of locusts in India every few years during the 1900s.
- A “five-year invasion” from 1926 to 1931 is estimated to have damaged crops worth Rs 2 crore (about $100 million at today’s prices).
- The princely states and provinces had their own structures to deal with this, but there was no coordination.
The Locust Warning Organization (LWO)
- After the 1926-32 “invasion”, the British Indian government-sponsored a research scheme, starting in 1931, which led to the permanent Locust Warning Organization (LWO) in 1939.
- It had its headquarters in New Delhi and a substation in Karachi.
- In 1941, a conference of princely states in desert areas and provinces affected by locusts was held.
- Its role was expanded in 1942, and in 1946 a bureaucratic structure was put in place.
Beginning of cooperation
- Iran too suffered locust attacks, in 1876, and in 1926-1932.
- Apparently the first case of collaboration between countries in the region occurred in 1942 when a delegation from India helped with locust control work in southwest Persia.
- Over the next two years, Indian help was also provided to Oman and Persia.
- This was followed by the first conference within the region on Desert Locust, which was held in Tehran in 1945 and involved Iran, India, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
- A second conference took place in 1950 also in Tehran with Pakistan participating.
Bringing in Pakistan
- In the 1950s, India and Iran cooperated and Pakistan provided two aircraft for locust surveys in Saudi Arabia.
- Following another attack during 1958-61, a decision was taken to group Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India together and the FAO Desert Locust commission was formed in 1964.
- The commission held annual sessions skipped in 1965 and 1999 but held in 1971.
- Even in the last six years when the relationship between India and Pakistan has deteriorated, it has been held in 2014, 2016 and 2018.
- The meetings are attended by locust control experts, with no diplomats.
India and Pakistan
- In 1977, the two countries began to meet on the border.
- From 1991 to 2003, special border surveys took place during the summer, undertaken by locust control officers in their respective countries.
- Joint border meetings have taken place every year since 2005 till 2019, except in 2011. This has been despite every diplomatic strain; including the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
- Arrangements are made in advance and protocols are followed for crossing the border.
- While politics and diplomacy is kept out of the technical discussions, locust control authorities feel that one of the more difficult challenges faced by the commission is that of “insecurity and sensitivities” in the region.
Q. Time and again normal ocean cycles got more pronounced or disrupted, resulting in all kinds of unintended consequences, like an ever-increasing domino effect of locust attacks in Asia and the Indian Sub Continent. We need to understand these links if we are to plan effectively for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Discuss. (250W)