Pakistan may lose $8.71 billion worth agriculture crops: Moot told

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Pakistan may lose $8.71 billion worth agriculture crops: Moot told

May 31, 2020

KARACHI:Pakistan may lose 8.71 billion dollar worth agriculture crops during the summer season in case locus destroyed 75 percent of the standing crops, said a senior agriculture scientist and an expert in locust Dr. Chaudhry Inayatullah here Sunday.

He was speaking at an online Zoom lecture ‘Locust Attack and Issues of Food Security” organized by Sindh Social Scientists Forum (s social think tank), which was also attended by agriculture experts, a representative of agriculture department of Government of Sindh and civil society activists.

Dr Choudhury Inayatullah is Advisor to Pakistan Agriculture Research Council, CEO AWARDS, Consultant EU, Ex-ARR UNDP has already worked on Locust issue in Sudan and other South African countries.

According to Dr. Inayatullah the locust attack during this year is severe and concerted and coordinated efforts of all federal and provincial government departments are essential for elimination of swarms of the locust which are now in billions.

He said it is estimated that if 25 percent of the crops are damaged during the current season, then the loss will be 2.9 billion dollar and if 50 percent crops were eaten up then the losses would be around 5.8 billion dollars.

Monitoring of locust and spraying breeding sites in Pakistan used to be a regular activity, Dr. Inayatullah said adding that but last year, the opportunity was missed. Consequently, the country is facing the worst attack of desert locust, which is present in all the provinces (60 districts).

Controlling desert locust when it is in swarms is an inter-country operation and communication, and early warning to other countries is a key to success, he said. Spraying vast areas is not an ecologically sound practice as it kills all the beneficial insects but in swarm stage it is the only way out. The use of semio-chemicals is ideal when locust is at the solitary and transitory phase.

Currently spray of pesticides is being done in Pakistan through special aircraft, which have been donated by China to the Government of Pakistan recently. Explaining the history of locust attack on earth, he recalled that its history can be traced in Egypt during Pharoses period and its mention are there in the Islamic scriptures. In recent history, he said it started from African countries in 1993 and spread in Asian countries.

Several chemicals (referred as pheromones or semio-chemicals) are released by the individuals which help in bringing the mates together, keeping the nymphs and adults together, and signals all the nymphs to mature together and get ready for flight.

Once the season is over, the locusts no more produce aggregation pheromone but produce antibodies, to it so that the locust disperse (social distancing) as season is not favourable for its multiplication, this is called as recession stage.

He said he was involved in research in Sudan. The aim of his research was to disrupt the communication among individual locusts at its different stages of life-cycle. If the communication is disrupted then the swarms cannot form. It was exactly the same strategy that armies use to disrupt the communication of the enemy.

“I studied the individuals caught from South Africa, Brazil and other countries in the British Museum of Natural History London, and observed that they had the same morphological characteristics as those of the ones which breed in Red Sea coastal areas.”

Dr. Inayatullah said it indicates the vast invasion range of desert locust. When the locust in solitary or transitory phase, it is much easier to control it as its population density is very low, but once the swarms are formed then aerial and ground spraying is the only way out.

Continuous monitoring of desert locust is essential for its effective control. At solitary and transitory phase it can be effectively controlled by using light/sex pheromone traps, baits sprayed with lethal fungi and other pathogens on the breeding sites.

“My discovery of sex pheromone in the desert locust was new to science as it could be effectively used to trap all the males without the use of pesticides.” In other insects, the sex pheromones have been used to monitor its population, as a trap and as spraying it over the entire field.

He said if spraying of sex pheromones is done on the entire field then the males are confused in finding the females, they move/fly around continuously and ultimately loose their entire energy and die.

The main breeding area of the desert locust is the Red Sea coastal areas. Last year above normal rainfall and temperature were ideal for its breeding and multiplication, which is a natural phenomenon. The second reason was man-made as the war in Yemen also played a role, because its regular monitoring and control could not be practiced in war torn Yemen. Consequently, locust multiplied unchecked and its swarms entered in East Africa (Somalia, Kenya, Uganda), other countries in the Gulf, Iran and Pakistan.

The Zoom conference was also attended by Aijaz Ali Khawaja and Uroosa Khatti of SSSF, agriculture expert Dil Nawaz, Saleem Jalbani from the provincial agriculture department, Government of Sindh, civil society activists Zulfiqar Halepoto, Raheema Panhwar, Shujauddin Qureshi, Latif Nizamani, Abdullah Solangi, Majid Masood and others.

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