The pests have arrivedDespite early warnings, we’re ill-prepared to fight the locust invasion.
They’ve finally arrived, the desert locusts. And, as we’re wont to do, we’ve sprung into action only when things became unavoidable. Old habits die hard. We couldn't let go of our national character of dilly-dallying as we waited and watched until the gregarious creatures came knocking at our doors. Until last week, the government kept giving us the impression that the locusts might just not visit Nepal. It was as if the problem had been averted without us having to do anything about it. So, when the locusts presented themselves to us suddenly late last week, we were caught off guard. The fight we had presumably won, it turned out, was yet to be fought.
Minister for Agriculture Ghanashyam Bhusal on Sunday sounded quite confident about an easy defence against the invasion as he claimed that the size of the swarms was ‘quite small’. The minister who is expected to lead a valiant fight against the invasion is still in denial. To his credit, he claimed that his office was in touch with officials from the United Nations and India about tracking the movement of the swarms. But they’ve already arrived in Kathmandu, the federal capital where his ministry is located, and in Chitwan, Bara, Rupandehi, Sarlahi and Parsa among other districts. It is only a matter of time before the hordes begin swarming throughout the country, devouring large swathes of vegetation at one go.
Coming on the heels of the Covid-19 pandemic, there are practical challenges in fighting against the pests. The impediment to economic activities means that the purchase and transportation of chemical sprays are not easy or cheap at present. So this calls for an alternative approach, which might involve making use of locally available, environmentally friendly bio-pesticides to ward off the plague. If not controlled immediately, the so-called ‘small’ swarms are likely to multiply several times over, given that the monsoon is the perfect condition for them to breed. And since the second generation locusts are more aggressive in devouring vegetation, they pose a grave food security challenge in the long run.
If the swarm of 'information' doing the rounds on social media is to be believed, some people are mulling to turn the pests into food. Locusts are said to be excellent sources of protein, and anecdotes abound about Nepalis using them as food during the last major locust invasion about five decades ago. In Africa, where the current batch of locusts originated before flying across continents to South Asia, people regularly eat the grasshoppers as protein supplements. But recent reports say that the locusts are not that edible anymore, especially because chemical sprays are being used to contain them. The possible health hazards of eating the locusts potentially outweigh the nutritional benefits of consuming them. There’s no clarity on this yet.
Also, there is no clarity on whether the farmers' crops are insured against the invasion. Given that crop losses range from 60 to 100 percent, we’re looking at possible bankruptcy of hundreds of thousands of farmers if the gregarious pests remain unforgiving as they did in several Indian states. The government must inform the public on the steps it is taking to fight the pests, to insure farmers' crops against devastation, and to ensure sufficient stock of foodgrains in view of impending food scarcity. It should also share information on how farmers can best fight the pests on their own, and the health benefits or hazards of consuming them. It needn’t wait for another wake-up call to put its act together. As the country fights the Covid-19 pandemic, the last thing we need today is a plague of locusts and a government plagued by ineptitude.
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