Between 1993 and 2020, the governments hardly invested in locust control departments
*This is the second and final section in a two-part series
When the locust attack first started in Rajasthan in mid-2019, the response of the state and central governments was to pass the buck.
Union Minister of State for Agriculture Kailash Choudhary accused the Rajasthan government of not cooperating when he visited the affected areas in June last year. Choudhary also passed the blame on to Pakistan for not controlling the pests.
The Rajasthan government complained that the Centre did not help.
The reality is that since 1993 — when the pests last swarmed in — both the state and the central governments had become complacent.
“The central team was on the verge of being disbanded because there have been no locust attacks in more than two decades,” a district agriculture official told Down to Earth (DTE) on conditions of anonymity.
He also added that the locust control division under the agriculture department at the district level in Rajasthan was all but in name. “Why would the government employ people for a job that is not there?”
The central government’s Locust Watch Organisation, on June 2018, according to the organisation’s data, had 250 positions in its 12 offices in districts across Rajasthan and Gujarat. Of these, 117 positions were vacant.
“The insects hadn’t attacked in more than two decades and then, they suddenly did. But now, we are prepared,” KL Gujar, deputy director, LWC told DTE.
“Now, we have a staff of more than 200 people and we have ordered around 55 control vehicles and 60 Ultra Low Volume spray vehicles. This is over the 45 vehicles we had last year,” Gujar added.
The organisation has improved its monitoring system as well.
“We are monitoring real time movement of swarms through the satellite based elocust 3 monitoring system. This is complimented by the village level information by agriculture supervisor, farmers and revenue officials who feed the information in an app for better dissemination,” Gujar said.
Now, the locusts have spread to areas as far as Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. Experts say that even if the locusts swarm reduce in numbers, they’ll continue to impact agriculture.
“The locusts which are getting left behind even as the swarm moves on, will get localised and pester farmers,” Govind Gujar, a research scientist with South Asia Biotechnology Centre (SABC) — a Delhi-based non-profit working on agriculture and science, said.
Given the situation, it seems the Indian farmers from these states will have to learn to live with the locusts.
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