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ISLAMABAD: The government on Wednesday, while officially declaring Punjab and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa districts locust-free regions has announced that efforts are underway to clear locust from Balochistan and Sindh provinces.

According to a spokesperson of the National Locust Control Center (NLCC), the federal government in collaboration with provincial departments carried out anti-locust operation in 1,126,619 hectares of land during the last six months, and averted the pest threats, which had affected 61 districts of four provinces.

The NLCC spokesman further said that due to continuous efforts of joint teams formed to combat desert locust, no locust was reported from the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the Punjab; however, locust was presented in one district of Balochistan, and two districts of Sindh including Hyderabad and Jamshoro.

Meanwhile, anti-locust survey and control operations were in progress as during the last 24 hours about 212,797 hectares have been surveyed, whereas control operation carried out on 600 hectares of District Lasbella of Balochistan and 320 hectares of Sindh.

According to agricultural experts, locust posed more serious threat to Pakistan than coronavirus as the attack occurred at a time when majority of the crops such as cotton, paddy, maize, fodder and vegetables were in their initial stages.

The farming community, while hailing the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the NLCC in coping with the locust situation, said that collective losses to agriculture economy would have reached Rs800 billion mark as it not only posed serious danger to paddy, maize, sugarcane, fruits, cotton, vegetables crops but fodder crops for livestock were also under serious threat.

They said that the federal government must take provinces on board to devise a permanent strategy in dealing with locust as the danger was yet not over, and it could reemerge.

Talking to Business Recorder, Mohammad Ibrahim Mughal of Agri-Forum Pakistan and Khalid Mehmood Khokhar of Kissan Ithad said that recently Indian government had urged Pakistan and Iran to join hands in fight against locust as expected more bigger attack coupled with present swarms was posing serious threats to standings crops in Iran, Pakistan and India, which could result in pushing almost 1.5 billion people to face serious food security situation.

Mughal and Khokhar said that locust attack in the past six months could not cause severe damages to crops because of hot weather conditions but authorities must take appropriate steps during ongoing month of September, and next month October to deal with the situation.

Citing a recent USAID report, Mughal said that the report had put expected agriculture losses at $4.5 billion in case the problem was not timely treated.

So far, most of the Kharif crops at present are in initial stages, and this is the best time to treat the locust, once the crops started growing, the locust will attack as it prefer juicy leaves and will become incurable.

Ibrahim Mughal said that recent past locust attack could caused up to Rs15 billion financial losses to agriculture sector mainly in Balochistan province, which was worst affected, while in other parts of the country damages were not severe.

He added that now the relevant authorities must take serious steps to avert next locust attack, saying in September most of the crops and fruits would be at final stages, and if appropriate steps were not taken it could become a disaster for agriculture sector of the country. Mughal said that livestock sector of the region especially of Pakistan was also facing serious survival threat as locust attack on fodder crops, which was essential food for millions of livestock of the country and contributing approximately 56 percent of value addition in agriculture, and nearly 11 percent to the gross domestic product with making a major contribution to agriculture value-added services from providing raw material to leather products.

Current population of farm animals in Pakistan consist of 23.34 million buffaloes, 22.42 million cattle, 24.24 million sheep, 49.14 million goats, 0.77 million camels and 319 million poultry.

If any serious damage is caused to the fodder, survival of livestock will become impossible.

Khokhar, while appreciating the federal and the provincial government's efforts to deal with locust, said that coping with the locust was a national cause and should be above all politics.

He said farmers' community also gave a number of recommendations to the federal government to deal with the situation.

The private sector involving agro industry such as pesticide companies, fertiliser companies, seed companies, agro industries may be taken on board and pool their resources voluntarily.

Vehicles, field staff and other supplies may be utilised under the technical guidance of the Department of Agriculture or Department of Plant Protection.

He said that the federal and provincial governments must engage the students of agriculture universities under the supervision of entomologists in the locust-affected areas.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020