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KARACHI: The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has said that losses due to locust attack in Pakistan could be severe if control operations fail to be effective. According to the SBP report, "The State of Pakistan's Economy", Pakistan has successfully tackled the menace of desert locusts in the past. In 2019, the Ministry of National Food Security and Research's (MNFSR's) Department of Plant Protection (DPP), the lead institution in charge of managing the desert locust threat in the country, surveyed an area of 932,580 hectares, treated 300,595 hectares in three provinces and sprayed 150,839 liters of pesticides during control operations.

However, despite these efforts, a more severe threat posed by desert locusts emerged in the second half of FY20 as new swarms originating in Africa continued to move east. Reports indicate that as many as 61 districts have already been impacted by locust swarms by the end of May 2020, with Balochistan being the worst affected province.

While a detailed assessment of the quantum of damage to crops is still forthcoming, the initial estimates indicated that over 115,000 hectares of crops, including that of wheat, oil seed, cotton, gram, fruits and vegetables, had been affected, according to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2019-20.

The report said that if the control operations for locust attacks were not to be effective, the losses could be severe as was evident from potential damage scenarios cited by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

According to the first scenario, loss to the agriculture sector from locust invasion is estimated at Rs205 billion in case of 15 percent damage level, for wheat, gram and potato produce only.

Under the second scenario of 25 percent damage level, potential losses for Rabi crops may be as much as Rs353 billion and some Rs464 billion for Kharif crops. Pakistan declared a national emergency on locusts on 31st January 2020, calling upon the National Disaster Management Authority, the provincial agriculture departments and the Armed Forces to join the DPP in mitigation efforts. A National Action Plan for Surveillance and Control of Desert Locust in Pakistan is being rolled out, consisting of three phases. Phase One covered the period from January to June 2020; Phase Two will cover the period from July to December 2020 and Phase Three from January to June 2021.

In the first phase, the country took several measures to combat the threat, including treating of a vast portion of an area deemed to be vulnerable. In addition, the Plant Protection Department is hiring a large batch of technical experts on emergency basis to help deal with the locust threat, while Micronair sprayers have also been procured to enhance control operations.

Locusts, which resemble ordinary grasshoppers, are notorious for forming large swarms. Desert locusts in particular form swarms that move rapidly across regions, laying waste to agricultural lands due to their voracious appetite. Desert locusts can trigger plagues with the potential to impact livelihoods up to a tenth of the world's population.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020