Lucknow:Farmers are spending sleepless nights guarding their crop of fruits, vegetables and paddy from locust attacks in various parts of Uttar Pradesh.
After invading parts of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, swarms of locusts have descended on in many parts of Western UP and the Bundelkhand region in the past 48 hours, prompting high alert in districts, such as Agra, Aligarh, Azamgarh, Chitrakoot and Jhansi.
Farmers fear a serious threat to crops in these regions as Kharif sowing is in full swing due to favourable monsoon rainfall.
According to the farmers, locust swarms have already stormed over hundreds of hectares near Mathura and Prayagraj. Saving the crops from wild locustshas, therefore, become a huge challenge for the farmers.
"I couldn’t sleep for a minute since locust swarms were moving freely around the whole night. I kept shooing them away the whole night, making loud noises by beating utensils," said 65-year-old Hukum Singh, a farmer in Mathura village.
When asked how much loss to crops and trees were incurred due to locusts, Singh said: “We cannot assess the loss as of now, but they have destroyed standing crops," adding that standing maize crop and mangoes were destroyed.
According to some farmers, locusts were spotted in Prayagraj, flying in from the Mirzapur district, before which they were spotted in several villages of Singrauli and Sonbhadra between Sunday and Tuesday.
Prem Singh, an agriculture expert based in Banda district, who has been extensively studying locusts, said: "Farmers should not panic as locusts are not a threat. As an agriculture expert, I feel some poeple are making money in the name of spraying chemicals. Honestly, locusts should be allowed to come and go and whatever damage they do, must be compensated by insurers. But, the way some officers make money in name of crop damage is very disappointing."
Singh blamed the growing menace of desert locusts on climate change. He said breeding of locusts was directly related to soil moisture and food availability.
"Villages such as Dharwara, Madeni Singh ka Pura, Tala, Hathsara and Lohandi in Prayagraj districts and Birjugadhi Chaumuha division of Mathura district have been affected by the locust swarms.A budget of crores of rupees was made, but all the money went into some officers' pockets. The farmer was dying before, and is still dying," he told NewsClick.
Shyam Singh Chahar, a farmer leader from Agra, claimed that the locust attack in Agra region had resulted in a significant loss to farmers in over two dozen villages. Besides, green vegetables and fruits, the locusts damaged brinjal, pearl millet (bajra), green gram (mung) and fodder, he added.
"A group of a heavy swarm of locusts entered Agra between June 29-30 and unfortunately the district administration could not do anything to protect the crops. Reason, over the past three months, officials of the agriculture department were creating panic among farmers that locusts will enter in the region soon, but neither they nor the district administration made any concrete plans to tackle the issue, and when locusts have destroyed the crops and gone, the Agra district administration is spraying chemicals. This is just to make money, nothing else," the farmer leader told NewsClick.
Meanwhile, an alert has been sounded in several districts, includingBijnor and Meerut, after a swarm flew over the neighbouring Bulandshahr district on their way to Aligarh district, Arrangements have been made to spray chemicals through fire tenders and tractor-mounted spraying machines to protect crops, besides sensitising the farmers on crop protection, said agriculture department officials. “Farmers are advised to beat utensils, drums and burst crackers to drive away locusts,” said an advisory issued by the agriculture development officer.
Gorakhpur, the home district of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, in Eastern Uttar Pradesh, has also faced locust attacks.
Kuldeep, a farmer in Mirpur village in Gorakhpur district, said that locusts had also created panic in the northwest rural areas of district. "Farmers live in the fields day and night. They try to drive them away by making a loud noise by beating 'thaalis' and other utensils. The grasshopper group has caused considerable damage to the maize crop. There is no help from the administration,” he said, adding that sowing of various crops and transplantation of paddy were in progress but locusts were giving sleepless nights to farmers.
Dharmendra Malik,Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) spokesperson claimed that sugarcane crop worth of thousands of crores would be at risk if locusts pass by the region.
"One district of sugarcane belt produced sugarcane worth over Rs 800 crore and there are several districts that depend on this crop. If locusts invade these districts, there will be a devastating situation in cane belt," the BKU leader said.
State Agriculture Minister Surya Pratap Shahi said that the UP government had given Rs 5 lakh to each of the bordering districts of the state for spraying chemicals to kill locusts. Apart from this, a monitoring committee has been formed in each district under the chief development officer to continuously monitor the situation.