Sindh invaded by ‘army of locusts’ amid fears of cotton devastation

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A locust lands on the camera as surveyors pass by infested crops in Mirwah subdivision of Pakistan’s southern Sindh province on June 18, 2019 (Photo by Nisar Khaskheli)
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A cotton farmer looks out at a small aircraft of the Department of Plant Protection as it sprays pesticides in Mirwah and Nara deserts of Pakistan’s southern Sindh province on June 15, 2019 (Photo by Nisar Khaskheli)
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A locust attacking a pomegranate plant in Dalbandin district of Balochistan on June 10, 2019. (Photo by Muhammad Akbar Notezai)
Updated 23 June 2019

Sindh invaded by ‘army of locusts’ amid fears of cotton devastation

  • The locust swarms migrated from the Red Sea and entered Pakistan through Iran
  • Deployment of air and ground pesticide underway to control spread of infestation to Sindh’s cotton fields

KARACHI: Like a guard in a watchtower, Nisar Khaskheli, a cotton farmer in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh, does not let his eyes leave the horizon for long. 
He is keeping a lookout for a bright yellow swarm of millions of desert locusts who inch closer to Sindh’s 200,000 acres of cotton crop every day. According to him, they are now only four kilometers away from the irrigated lands of Pakistan’s second-largest cotton producing province, and the farmers are sleepless with worry, despite the government’s deployment of aircraft and pesticide-mounted vehicles to prevent an attack on the country’s prize crop.
The emergency pesticide deployment is not unwarranted: Home-grown cotton runs Pakistan’s textile industry which is its largest job provider and foreign exchange earner. As the country struggles to stave off a balance of payments’ crisis following a bailout package from the International Monetary Fund, it cannot afford to lose its cotton, which is already forecast to fall to a 17 year low this month according to official data. 
“On 25th May, we spotted the locusts for the first time when they were about 18 km away from irrigated land in Sindh,” Khaskheli, who is also president of a local agriculture chamber, told Arab News. 
But within days, he said, owing to favorable weather conditions for breeding and hatching, there was a huge growth in their numbers. 
“It forced us to raise alarm bells and inform the authorities,” he said.
Desert locusts, swarming short-horned grasshoppers, have been destroying crops in Africa and Asia for centuries. Their ability to move in huge swarms with great speed has earned them notoriety as one of the most devastating agricultural plagues in the world. 
From the Red Sea coast of Sudan and Eritria, the locusts first emerged in January this year. By February, they had hit Saudi Arabia and Iran before entering Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province in March. 
“Saudi Arabia quickly launched a control operation, but the undetected and uncontrolled gregarious locusts moved toward Iran,” Muhammad Tariq Khan, director of the Department of Plant Protection (DPP) at Pakistan’s Ministry of National Food Security and Research, told Arab News.
Despite a massive control operation in Iran, Khan said some unrestrained and undetected locust swarms migrated to Balochistan. 
“The conditions (for breeding) were conducive for them in Balochistan due to rainfall,” he said.
Though Balochistan is not a major cotton province like Sindh and Punjab, the huge swarms of locusts have destroyed pomegranate, watermelon, grain and cotton crops in their path according to locals, though the exact extent of the damage is not yet officially known. 
According to Liaquat Shahwani, Balochistan government’s spokesperson, the damage in his province has been controlled.
“Despite a massive attack, the damage was not too high,” he said, but did not share specific estimates of crop damage. 
Most farmers disagreed, and said the destruction was colossal. 
“They haven’t even spared the trees,” said Naseer Baloch, a farmer in Kharan, an area infested by locusts in Balochistan, alongside districts Chaghi, Washuk, Pasni, Turbat, Uthal, Dalbandin, Panjgur and parts of Kechh. 
“They attack like an army and when they advance, it looks like the earth is moving,” he said.
The last major locust infestations in Pakistan were back in 1993 and 1997, though the government lacks credible statistics to quantify the damage in both instances.
After the Balochistan outbreak, the DPP says it has moved its ground control teams to launch control operations in affected areas, but that some locust groups were now moving toward the Tharparkar and Nara deserts of Sindh, and also toward India’s Rajasthan desert.
Sindh’s agriculture minister, Muhammad Ismail Rahoo, said his department found out about the locust infestation on June 3rd and was making serious efforts to safeguard its cotton crop. 
It is still unclear why news of the infestation has taken so long to reach Sindh, despite crops affected in Balochistan three months ago. 
“We are not big landlords, and our crop is our only source of income,” Sindh farmer Khaskheli said. “The money we make from it helps pay our bills, pay for hospitals, our children’s schools, their weddings.”
“If the locusts are not controlled, they will not just damage our crops and deprive us of livelihood,” he said. “They will wipe out billions of rupees.”
Then he shielded his eyes from the sun, and turning away, continued to stand guard over his cotton fields.

US ready to help Pakistan, India over Kashmir – Trump

Updated 18 min 11 sec ago

US ready to help Pakistan, India over Kashmir – Trump

  • Says Washington has never been closer with Islamabad as ‘we are right now’
  • PM Khan says Kabul was the main issue as it concerned both countries

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan met with US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Tuesday where the two discussed the Afghan peace process and the ongoing situation in Kashmir.

In a brief address to the media, Trump said that the US is watching the developments between India and Pakistan over Kashmir “very closely”, and that Washington was prepared to help in the matter, if necessary.

“We were talking about Kashmir in relation to what’s going on with Pakistan and India that we can help, so certainly we’ll be helping. We are watching (developments) and following very closely,” Trump said, without adding any further details.

Khan, for his part, said that Afghanistan had been the “main issue... because it concerns the US and Pakistan.”

“Both of us are interested in peace there and an orderly transition in Afghanistan with talks with the Taliban and the government,” he said.

When questioned whether he would be including Pakistan in his itinerary during his scheduled trip to India, Trump said: “Well, we are meeting right now. I wanted to say hello,” before quickly adding that both US and Pakistan are getting along very well and “have never been closer than we are right now.”

Khan arrived in Davos on Tuesday where he is expected to hold talks with several world leaders on the sidelines of the forum which ends on January 23. His meeting with Trump was the third leadership-level interaction between Pakistan and the US since Khan’s visit to Washington in July last year.

He is visiting Davos on the invitation of Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the WEF and is being accompanied by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Adviser on Commerce Abdul Razaq Dawood, and his special assistants Syed Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari and Dr. Moeed Yusuf for the trip.

According to a statement released on Tuesday, Khan is expected to give a keynote address during a special session of the WEF, in addition to interacting with CEOs and corporate leaders at the Pakistan Strategy Dialogue meet.

He will also speak to senior international journalists and editors during a session with the WEF’s International Media Council.

The significance of his visit was further highlighted by a Time Magazine cover — which features the Pakistani premier alongside four other world leaders in the publication’s special edition of the WEF — which released on Monday.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the WEF.

Khan’s office said that in keeping with this milestone, political leaders, business executives, heads of international organizations and civil society representatives will deliberate on contemporary economic, geopolitical, social and environmental issues.