Government allocates Rs26bn to fight locusts

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ISLAMABAD: The government on Saturday announced it was allocating funds amounting to Rs26 billion to fight the locust outbreak in the country,

Minister for National Food Security and Research Fakhar Imam said desert locust situation in Pakistan has found a new corridor and were now ente­ring Pakistan from Afghanistan to Dera Ismail Khan and Waziristan.

“The federal government will spend Rs14 billion and provincial governments will contribute Rs12 billion to counter the locust,” Imam said while addressing the 5th meeting of the National Locust Control Centre.

The locust plague has affected farmers across the country and is feared to create food shortages. Pakistan declared a national emergency after the first swarm invaded the country from the UAE in mid-2019. Another wave is expected to soon arrive from Iran.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimated $2.5 billion worth of losses to winter crops and $2.8 billion to summer crops.

The threat coincides with the coronavirus crisis that already crippled the economy and growth prospects. Economic growth is expected to contract 0.4% this fiscal year from 1.9% in the last fiscal year.

Crop losses have been reported in several areas of Khyber Pakht­unk­h­wa, particularly in Dera Ismail Khan district, from where these loc­ust swarms were entering Punjab.

The food minister said locusts attack has been minimised by combined efforts in majority areas. The teams on the ground were sent out at night to spray and destroy locust when it rested, he said.

“Federal and provincial governments, district administration and farmers are coordinating to tackle the locust attacks,” he said.

National Locust Control Center along with National Disaster Management Authority and district administrations were making effort to control the locust.

About 8,000 army troops have been deployed for the anti-locust operation. China has extended financial help of $4.9 million to Pakistan by giving it 53,000 litres of spray, sprayers and drones, the minister said. Twenty aircraft will be used for the anti-locusts operation.

FAO will hand over 20 micron air sprayers in the next week, the minister said. The Asian Development Bank and the World Bank will finance anti locusts operations in the form of $200 and $150 respectively.

A presentation was also given by the food ministry regarding the national action plan for anti-locusts. Target has been set for treating crop areas in the first stage. Punjab will treat 5 million hectares, Sindh will treat 1.5 million hectares, Balochistan will treat 0.5 million hectares. Similarly, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will treat 0.5 million hectares.

There will be a surveillance/control team that will be headed by etymologists. The team will also include locust assistant, representative of the local community and manpower from Pakistan Army, the meeting was told.

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