The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has said that the locust threat will continue in India till July and at least seven states are likely to battle the infestation. Experts have warned of extensive crop losses if authorities fail to contain the fast-spreading swarms by this month.

In a desert locust bulletin issued on Thursday, the FAO said the locusts will oscillate in northern India before returning to Rajasthan in late June. Last month, India stepped up its response to the country’s worst locust attack in decades. The swarms speared into Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab after destroying crops in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana.

“Successive waves of spring-bred swarms from Iran and Pakistan will arrive in Rajasthan throughout June with additional swarms coming from East Africa to Gujarat and Rajasthan from early July onwards,” the bulletin said.

The locusts are likely to settle in cropping areas or continue eastwards to Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and as far east as Bihar and Odisha, the UN body said, adding that those in central northern states will oscillate east and westwards before returning to Rajasthan with the onset of monsoon in early July.

The FAO said that early migration of spring-bred locust swarms from southwest Pakistan to Rajasthan occurred in May before the monsoon, and some swarms travelled to northern states for the first time since 1962.

The Union Agriculture Ministry’s Locust Warning Organisation said that many villages in Barmer and Jodhpur districts in Rajasthan continued witnessing locust attacks, according to Hindustan Times. LWO Deputy Director KL Gurjar said locusts have been controlled in 65,000-hectare area so far. “Some adult groups and swarms are expected to arrive in India from the spring-breeding areas such as Iran and Pakistan,” he added. “Therefore, vigilance will continue for expected invasion of locust in coming days.”

Gurjar had last month told that coordination with Pakistan is crucial for containing the locust attacks. The swarms have arrived at a time when the government is trying to contain the spread of the coronavirus outbreak and is already reeling from the economic fallout of the nationwide lockdown.

On May 27, the Ministry of Agriculture had 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.

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.

The United Nations had also 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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  2. Locust swarm: Coordination with Pakistan crucial for containing attacks, says key official