As in many countries around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Pakistan's economy and highlighted problems of inequality, regional conflict and rising unemployment. These problems are further exacerbated by an army of locusts that has ravaged food supplies since June 2019 and endangers infrastructure weakened by the effects of the pandemic.
The international press reported on desert locust clouds after they arrived in Pakistan from Iran in June 2019. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), these locusts are disastrous, as a “swarm the size of Paris consumes the same amount of food in one day as half the population of France. “
In November 2019, the arrival of the locusts in Karachi marked the first locust attack in the city since 1961. The locust army had already destroyed cotton, wheat and corn crops, among others, when the Government of Pakistan declared the national emergency in February of this year. The decision to protect crops and farmers with a national action plan and budget of 7.3 billion Pakistani rupees ($ 45.49 million) was taken jointly by officials and federal ministers.
According to NDMA, locust has affected 28 districts in Balochistan, 11 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 12 in Punjab and 2 in Sindh https://t.co/oN8MMQqyhv
– Radio Pakistan (@RadioPakistan) May 18, 2020
Measurement at national level, spraying in progress in areas affected by locusts.
Locusts have affected 28 districts in Balochistan, 11 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 12 in Punjyab and two in Sindh.
According to the National Disaster Management Authority, the locust infestation has affected 28 districts in Balochistan, 11 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 12 in Punjab and 2 in Sindh.
Farmers are concerned about feeding their children and about agricultural production. Many people in the province have voiced their concerns about the alarming situation and have used social media to express their fears.
The locust attack in Pakistan is a serious issue and an agricultural crisis in the making. As decorative as we would think this farmer looks… what he is actually wants us to realize is the intensity of the current situation. pic.twitter.com/hq5b8b6D9r
– Fakhr-e-Alam (@ falamb3) May 15, 2020
The locust attack in Pakistan is a serious problem and an emerging agricultural crisis. As decorative as we may think this farmer looks… what he really wants is for us to become aware of the gravity of the current situation.
A terrifying video of the locust swarm is being circulated on Twitter, taken by a driver on his way from Sibi, Balochistan, to Sindh, southeast Pakistan.
– Asad (@asadisbored) May 9, 2020
Driving from Sibi to Sindh through a cloud of locusts, a nightmare (via WhatsApp).
While many people are scared by the food shortage forecast, many hold the federal government and agricultural departments accountable. Independent journalist Manoj Genani believes that the situation worsened due to the negligence of the Government and the competent authorities:
In this pandemic situation, plant protection department has forget #locusts, they could have started biological spray in the region earlier but haven't done so far, small farmer is worried in #Sindh it may cause a huge loss of crops#ClimateChange @pid_gov @FAO @FAOPakistan @IUCN pic.twitter.com/Kw3qMBLVim
– Manoj Genani (@genanimanoj) May 10, 2020
In this pandemic situation, the plant protection department forgot about locusts; They could have started biological fumigation in the region before, but have not yet done so; A small farmer in Sindh is concerned about the huge loss of crops it can cause. Climate change.
Pakistan's agrarian economy and the devastating effects of the locust infestation
Pakistan is primarily an agrarian economy, contributing approximately 24% of gross domestic product (GDP). A significant proportion of its 220 million inhabitants depend on the agricultural industry, either directly in cultivation and irrigation activities, or through the supply and export chain of crops.
Economy of Pakistan is already down due to COVID-19 n now agriculture is also facing huge loss of Farms because of Locust whch ll be more harmfull for crops of Sindh ..#YaAllahKhair#SaveSindhfromlocust pic.twitter.com/t64wi8QkS9
– Zuhaib mojai Rajper (@MojaiZuhaib) May 12, 2020
Pakistan's economy has already contracted due to COVID-19, and now agriculture is also facing a large loss of farms due to locusts, which will be even more damaging to Sindh's crops.
According to the report of the 2018-2019 Pakistan Living and Social Conditions Measurement Survey, almost 16% of the Pakistani population was already at risk of moderate to severe food insecurity.
Inefficiencies in the country's agricultural supply chain put millions of people at risk of malnutrition, especially in the impoverished and very neglected areas of Sindh and Baluchistan. And the situation has deteriorated since the COVID-19 outbreak.
Aamer Hayat Bhandara, a farmer in southern Punjab, argues that a shortage of manpower, transport and a clear government strategy during confinement affects Pakistan's food system.
In Pakistan Left Review, Hashim Bin Rashid and Mohsin Abdali wrote about the causes of the food crisis in Pakistan:
The complete shutdown of agricultural trading markets, especially those that purchase outputs from farmers, has led to significant losses for farmers. With the movement of goods suspended, crops ready for harvest, including grain, have been left to rot in the fields.
The complete closure of markets for trade in agricultural products, especially those that buy products from farmers, has caused significant losses to farmers. With the movement of goods suspended, ready-to-harvest crops, including cereals, were left to rot in the fields.
Wheat and flour are a staple food in Pakistani cuisine, and many of the poorest households depend on both for their nutritional needs. The locust infestation struck during the rabi crop harvest season, wheat is just one of those crops, and represents a serious threat to the people of Pakistan.
24% of Pakistan's population lives below the poverty line, which means that a significant 38% of people depend on wheat and flour. Farmers are concerned about the possibility that their children are hungry and demand that the government take appropriate measures and request insurance coverage against the plague.
The president of the Pakistan People's Party, the main opposition political party, warned of a possible famine if the federal government fails to take timely action.
Locust infestation fosters regional cooperation
The locust infestation has also threatened other agricultural economies; countries in Africa are struggling to eliminate them. In Asia, the crisis promoted regional cooperation and neighboring Pakistan countries have offered help to combat the plague.
Pakistan was reported in February to discuss the possibility of importing pesticides from India, despite the fact that trade ties had been severed in the wake of the conflict in Kashmir. According to more recent news, India has also sought help from Pakistan and Iran, and has proposed a trilateral partnership between the countries.
In addition, China has fully supported Pakistan by shipping around 300 tons of locust pesticides and donating 350 vehicle-mounted sprays in the past three months. Iran and Turkey also offered their knowledge to Pakistan to fight the plague.
Iranian Ambassador to Pakistan Syed Mohammad Ali Hussaini called on Pakistan and India to work cooperatively with Iran to combat the common enemy. He believes that the exchange of knowledge, experiences and best practices will help the three countries eradicate the locust plague and protect the fragile food infrastructure.