What if kharif crops are lost to locusts? Does J&K have a Plan B?

By: Syed Imran

Srinagar: In a major report, one of India’s leading market research and broking companies, Motilal Oswal, said on Monday that “if locust infestation is not controlled, then it would pose a threat to the kharif crops.” 

“The horticulture crops, which include fruits and vegetables, are at a risk of a washout in Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat due to potential locust attacks”, Motilal Oswal further said in a special report on agriculture sector.

This latest report by a major research firm has set alarm bells ringing in the country’s economic and even political policy planning establishments.

Another unusual sign is the locusts’ mega spread over North and West India. The swarms have travelled much beyond their traditional areas in Rajasthan and have reached States such as Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. The last time Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh had faced locust attacks was in 1993 and Maharashtra in 1974, scientists said.

Is J&K ready for a worst case scenario?

There is a general consensus among agricultural experts in Jammu & Kashmir that while Kashmir valley is largely insulated from a potential locust attack, but most Jammu plains and parts of Leh and Kargil remain vulnerable to locust attacks.

J&K’s Disaster Management Department is closely monitoring the situation.

“The mitigation plan for tackling locust attack has been prepared by the Agriculture Department and they are taking the lead. Disaster Management Department is providing necessary support in terms of funding and resources. Besides Fire & Emergency Services (F&ES) and State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) have also been kept in a state of readiness to provide any support to the Agriculture Department in tacking the menace”, Aamir Ali, Director Disaster Management Department told Ziraat Times.

Not only about locust attacks, it is about food scarcity too

Even as locust attacks might not imperil the standing crops and other vegetation in J&K as a whole to a serious extent, what requires advance planning and mitigation measures is a potential food scarcity situation should locusts destroy crops in north India during and after the monsoon.

Officials of J&K Administration Ziraat Times spoke to are mostly sanguine that J&K might not face the kind of a locust attack that would warrant a special mitigation plan.

“As far as a potential food insecurity situation is concerned the is unlikely because the central government has good buffer stocks of woodgrains”, said a senior J&K government official.

But the question is about the absence of a Plan B. What if the locust attacks aggravate after monsoon and crop damages happen at an unimaginable scale in north India? Wouldn’t J&K need a plan for a situation?

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Early arrival of locust swarms and their geographical areas is worrisome, say scientists

The early arrival of the desert locust swarms has set off alarms bells in the agriculture scientist and entomologist community. The community had expected a smaller infestation in June and July, but the early arrival has the community worried about the kharif sowing.

Usually, smaller attacks happen between June and July, but this year, by early March mega swarms had started their destruction in Rajasthan and Gujarat, scientists have said.

The May 2018 cyclone in Oman and Yemen, which dumped three years’ worth of rain in a single day, is said to have created much higher availability of water in the desert regions, which are breeding grounds of the locust. Such factors have led to an abnormal rise in locust population. 

The monsoon factor – sugarcane, kharif crops under threat

The way the situation is unfolding there is barely any room for complacency. The current locust attack in India in unique and far more damaging than any known locust attack so far.

The Oswal report further points out that the outbreak has to stop before the arrival of monsoon rainfall in June/July, when the locusts would mature and breed. If infestation is not controlled, then it would pose a threat to the kharif crops, it says.

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