Desert locust situation in Pakistan

Desert locust situation in Pakistan: locust surveillance and control operations and situation analysis

04/05/2020

The Department of Plant Protection (DPP), Ministry of National Food Security and Research (MFSR) is the lead institution tasked with monitoring and managing the desert locust threat in Pakistan. DPP started operations to respond to the desert locust threat in February 2019, with support from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and immediately mobilized ground control teams and started operations in Baluchistan near Pasni, Gwadar, Turbat, Uthal, Kharan and Dalbandin.

Control operations and surveillance

In 2019, DPP surveyed an area of 932 580 hectares and treated 300 595 hectares in three provinces, consuming 150 839 litres of pesticides. Of the hectares treated, 20 300 hectares were cleared by aerial spraying. In response to desert locust appearing in cultivated areas in the four provinces of Pakistan, the scale of the infestations, and the unusually favourable conditions for breeding, the Government declared a “National Emergency on Locust” upon the advice of the MFSR. This brought together the National Disaster Management Authority, Provincial Agricultural Departments, and the armed forces of Pakistan, wherever required, to coordinate and support large-scale locust control operations in Pakistan.

A comprehensive National Action Plan for Surveillance and Control of Desert Locust in Pakistan, 

2020-21, was prepared and adopted. The initiatives to safeguard national food security include efficient coordination with key stakeholders (public and private sector institutions), timely resource mobilization, effective surveillance, control operations and mass awareness activities as per the standard operating procedures endorsed by FAO to combat serious threats to agriculture from desert locust.

Potential damage

Damage scenarios have been estimated in case control operations are not fully effective in areas where major Rabi crops like wheat, chickpea and oilseeds could be severely damaged in the short term. It has been estimated that the losses to agriculture due to the locust invasion could reach approximately PKR 205 billion (USD 1.2 billion) [1], considering a 15 percent damage level for the production of wheat, gram and potato only. At 25 percent damage level, the total potential losses are estimated to be about PKR 353 billion (USD 2.2 billion) for the Rabi crops, and about PKR 464 billion (USD 2.9 billion) for kharif crops. In the midst of the additional impacts of COVID-19 on health, livelihoods and food security and nutrition on the most vulnerable communities and populations of Pakistan, it is imperative to contain and successfully control the desert locust infestation.

Anticipatory action and FAO support

The Government of Pakistan has been taking numerous anticipatory actions in collaboration with FAO, in coordination with neighbouring countries, and with the support of international partners to address this threat and prepare a timely and effective response. In February 2020, the first phase of the National Action Plan for Surveillance and Control of Desert Locust started. Currently, surveillance and control operations are well underway in all the locust-affected provinces in Pakistan, involving partner organizations and FAO support.

FAO has provided support to the locust surveillance and control programme in Pakistan by providing technical and operational support from the very early onset of the desert locust upsurge. Before 2019, FAO was instrumental in providing 14 vehicles, sprayers, 30 eLocust3 rugged handheld tablets for data collection in the field, as well as support for undertaking joint surveys and border meetings with neighbouring countries, locust forecasting and specialized training of staff. During 2019, substantial support was given by providing spares and petroleum, oil and lubricants for vehicles and aircraft, alongside technical support. FAO expanded the eLocust3 system and launched the mobile phone version, eLocust3m, providing training to DPP and partner institutions and surveillance teams. As of now, some 100 or more entries are made every day using this mobile application, which helps in monitoring the situation better and predicting possible locust migration.

Desert locust forecast

Towards the end of May, populations will begin to move from the spring breeding areas in Baluchistan, Pakistan and adjacent areas of southeast Iran to the summer breeding areas along both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border. This movement will continue throughout June. As a result, swarms that are not detected or treated in the spring areas are likely to cross the Indus Valley and reach the desert areas in Tharparkar, Nara and Cholistan in time for the start of the monsoon rains. This year the situation is aggravated as for the first time in many decades, there is a second threat of invasion by swarms from East Africa in late June and during July.