Swarms of locusts descend on India’s biggest sugarcane region

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A fresh swarm of desert locusts has entered Uttar Pradesh, India’s biggest sugarcane grower, via capital city Delhi and the northern state of Haryana, according to the federal farm ministry.

Operations to control the grasshoppers are in full swing in the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Punjab and Maharashtra, the ministry said in a statement late Saturday. Tractors, fire engines and drones are engaged in spraying pesticides to kill them, it said.

A massive locust attack adds another challenge for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration, which is trying to contain the spread of the coronavirus and limit its impact on the economy. It cannot risk food crops getting destroyed as millions of people have been pushed into poverty after losing their livelihoods due to the world’s most stringent stay-at-home rules. While movement restrictions are being relaxed, India has become the fourth country with more than 500,000 infections.

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The hoppers, which normally settle on trees during the night and fly during the day, have been controlled in about 127,225 hectares (314,379 acres) of area across the country between April 11 and June 26, the ministry said. Farmers grow mainly rice, pulses, cotton, sugarcane and soybeans on about 106 million hectares during the monsoon season between June and September.

A farmer shows a dead locust found in his field as locust swarms currently plague large zones in the country at Badra Sonauti village on the outskirts of Allahabad in India on June 10, 2020.
SANJAY KANOJIA/AFP via Getty Images

In January, the biggest locust swarm to hit India’s western state of Gujarat in over a quarter of a century resulted in more than 25,000 hectares of wheat, rapeseed, cumin and potatoes being attacked, with at least a third of the crops damaged in 75% of the affected areas. About 403,488 hectares had to be treated with pesticides across the country after another invasion in 2019-20, according to the farm ministry.

Desert locusts often attack North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, usually when heavy rains follow droughts. They generally enter the desert areas of India via Pakistan for breeding during the four-month rainy season that starts in June. But, this year, pink adult swarms were reported as early as April in Rajasthan and Punjab, according to the farm ministry.

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