About 6,000 hectares affected before State ‘pushes’ the locusts out
Farmers in Gujarat can heave a sigh of relief after the State administration successfully eliminated a large chunk of locusts and forced the remaining lot to leave Gujarat borders from the North.
“Since last night, we have not found locusts at any place in Banaskantha or other affected parts of Gujarat. We believe that they are now going back to parts of Rajasthan and Jalore, from where they are believed to have entered Gujarat,” Sandip Sagale, District Collector, Banaskantha told Businessline.
Launched earlier last week, the combat operation was not less than any military action, as described by the government officials.
On war-footing, the government first assessed, then surveyed, planned and executed a coordinated attack on what the farmers termed – “infiltrators” on their fields. But before they were eliminated, the locusts had affected over 6,000 hectares of land in North Gujarat mainly in Banaskantha district.
“So far, we have surveyed 10,000 hectares of the area, of which we found locusts on 7,000 hectares. The insects were destroyed in over 5,000 hectares by spraying pesticides of around 4,900 litres,” said Punamchand Parmar, Additional Chief Secretary, State Agriculture Department.
Sagale, who was in charge of the anti-locust operation, stated that response to the attack was collective with Central and State teams including the top officials Chief Secretary, Agriculture secretary to the ground representatives including gram sevak and panchayats were involved for the operation, which lasted for less than a week.
The countryside of Banaskantha district wore a ‘war-zone’ look with convoys of tractors mounted with spraying machines accompanied by fire vehicles, R&B earth movers and government jeeps plying on the narrow highways.
Since the locust attack of this scale wasn’t seen at least in past two decades, the response had to be equally intense for making it effective. This necessitated a large-scale combat operation, which the government claims to have accomplished within a week’s time.
While senior officials were strategising a strong combat, the ground-staff used their handheld weapon – a WhatsApp Group to keep them informed. “We had formed a WhatsApp Group, which came very handy to our staff on the ground who kept us updated about the movement and presence of the locusts so that we could strategise and mobilise our action accordingly. This worked wonders as we could get live location of the locusts,” said the collector.
The insect attack posed several challenges, though including timely spotting of the locusts, reaching out to far-flung areas in difficult terrain and sensitising villagers and residents about the hazards of the chemicals.
The Road and Building (R&B) Department was pressed into action for road clearance, the fire department provided extended reach for spraying at the height, water supply and irrigation department came with their equipment, agriculture department coordinated with farmers to source tractor vehicles. There were total 18 operational Central teams, who had expertise in using the hazardous – highly toxic chemical – 96% malathion, the State teams used Chlorpyrifos (CPS) 20% and 50% for sprayers.
Since, the spraying was possible only in mornings because in the nights the spiracles of the insects remain closed leaving sprays ineffective.
The large swarm of locust – spanning over about 15 kilometres in size – had invaded fields in Banaskantha on December 14. “We already had several smaller swarms of locusts in other parts but we decided to concentrate our attack on the bigger swarm and eliminate it first. And we succeeded in this strategy,” said Sagale.
However, the State administration still stands guard for the next five days till the threat is completely eliminated. “We should be sure that they will not return with the wind from Rajasthan. So, we are still on alert for five more days,” he added.