The Centre on Wednesday stepped up its response to the threat of locusts, which have invaded vast swathes of land in western and central India. This came after experts warned of extensive crop losses if authorities fail to contain the fast-spreading swarms by June.

This is the worst locust attack in decades as they are spearing into Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab after destroying crops in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana.

In a statement, the Ministry of Agriculture said control operations have been stepped up and drones will be deployed for aerial spraying of insecticides in the affected states. Locust containment measures and sprinkling operations have been conducted in 303 locations spread over more than 47,000 hectares till Wednesday in 21 districts of Rajasthan, 18 in Madhya Pradesh, two in Gujarat and one in Punjab, it added.

“Eighty-nine fire brigades for pesticide spray; 120 survey vehicles; 47 control vehicles with spray equipments and 810 tractor mounted sprayers have been deployed for effective locust control, as per requirement during different days,” the ministry said.

The government has also placed an order for 60 spraying machines from United Kingdom-based company Micron, and two firms have been finalised to supply drones for aerial spraying of insecticides for effective control over tall trees and inaccessible areas. “Advisories have been issued to the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana and Punjab regarding the locust attack and necessary measures to be taken for effective control and pesticides that are to be used for effective locust control in the cropped area,” the ministry said.

Meanwhile, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab have been put on high alert for the infestation, PTI reported. The locust threat also figured during a routine meeting chaired by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath. “He said all protective measures must be taken,” a spokesperson told the news agency. In Punjab, control rooms have been set up in each district and farmers have been asked to report any activity of locusts.

Officials said Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar is closely monitoring the situation, and held three meetings with state ministers and representatives of pesticides companies.

Normally, with the arrival of the monsoon, locust swarms enter the desert areas of India via Pakistan for breeding in June-July, but this year pink adult swarms were reported as early as April 30 in Rajasthan and Punjab. This happened because of the uncontrolled swarms in Pakistan that breed continuously, the agriculture ministry said.

Several waves of locust attacks are expected from now until early July, due to spring breeding in southern Iran and southwest Pakistan, according to experts. The United Nations warned earlier this month that armies of locusts swarming across continents pose a “severe risk” to India’s agriculture this year.

Scientists believe there is a connection between climate change and locust attacks. Locusts thrive in wet conditions, with attacks following cyclones and floods. As greenhouse gases continue to heat the ocean and the atmosphere, floods and cyclones are becoming more common, increasing the possibility of frequent locust attacks.

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