Published on June 17th, 2020
By Ahmed Saeed from Lahore
Akram Bajwa, 42, stands in his newly sowed cotton field and stares worryingly around him. Glancing up at the sky he is reminded of how someone has informed him that locust swarms can attack the area today. Since then Bajwa has become restless.
Bajwa is a small scale farmer who owns only a few acres of land in the Cholistan desert, a few miles away from Bahawalpur city. This piece of land was part of the desert a few decades back but was made cultivatable by Bajwa’s forefathers through years of hard work.
The Cholistan area is considered the best when it comes to growing cotton during the Kharif season. Like every year, Bajwa also sowed cotton seeds in mid-April. Generally, the first one month after the seeding is very crucial for any crop to grow and sustain against weather conditions and insects.
But this year, because of the locusts, Bajwa and other farmers’ concerns have been tripled. They know that if there is an attack then they would be able to do absolutely nothing about it except to stand and watch the destruction silently.
Sadly even at the end of April, the worries of Bajwa and the other farmers grew when one swarm of locusts had attacked their village turning the lush green crop fields into barren land in just a matter of a few minutes. Bajwa’s entire cotton crop was eaten away by the pests and all his hard work and hope went down the drain.
Recalling that fateful day, Bajwa said that the attack was so quick and heavy that he and other farmers did not get time even to take preventive action.
“The swarm was around 8 kilometers long and five kilometers wide,” he said. “They settled into our fields and chewed away all the crops in just five minutes. And we just stood there as silent spectators unable to do anything else.”
According to Bajwa, farmers are used to bearing losses due to different natural aspects but the magnitude of damage inflicted by locusts is always unbearable.
“Now, we live in a constant state of fear. These locusts have not just destroyed our crops, they have also eaten away the food for our children.”
These locust swarms had entered into Pakistan through Iran. The insects first invaded the crop fields in Balochistan and in northern Sindh last year, but nothing was done to eliminate them.
According to a report submitted by Punjab government in the Supreme Court, if effective measures are not taken then the 300,000 square kilometers area (37% of the entire area of the country) could come under the locusts’ attack.
Due to such continuous attacks and large scale damage done by these insects, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and provincial agriculture departments have now started an anti-locust campaign to mitigate the damage.
According to NDMA, it has sprayed over an area of 600,000 hectares across the country.
PM Advises Farmers To Catch Locusts
Prime Minister Imran Khan while chairing a cabinet meeting on the issue, advised the farmers to capture the locusts and then sell these to poultry farmers at a rate of Rs. 15 per kilogram.
But the farmers termed this piece of advice from the country’s head as a “joke”.
According to Akram Bajwa, he voted for Imran Khan in the last general elections but now the Prime Minister he elected seems to be making fun of his issues. He says that capturing locusts is next to impossible.
“If it is so easy and profitable then why doesnt the government do it?” Bajwa asks.
The Situation Is “Uncontrollable”
Locusts usually do not fly in the winters as they lay eggs in a desert area. This is why the winter season is considered the best time to kill them through mass spraying.
According to Bajwa, the farmers of the Bahawalpur informed the Punjab Agriculture department that hundreds of thousands of locusts were laying eggs in the desert area and asked them to do aerial spraying. But the Department did absolutely nothing.
Voicepk.net asked Shafiq Ahmed, Deputy Director Agriculture Bahawalpur about the complainants of the farmer. Ahmed said that locusts could be eliminated in winters but then the departments had no funds or resources to do any spraying.
“Now the government has provided us with funds and modern machinery to combat this menace and we are doing our best to protect our farmers,” Ahmed said.
But Bajwa is not really happy with the steps being taken by the government. He was of the view that the department has missed the chance to eliminate the flying insects and now the situation was“uncontrollable”.
Farmers Demand Free Seeds
Despite being ruined twice by locusts, Akram Bajwa and other farmers have demanded that the government should provide them with good quality seeds for free so that they could meet the expenses of growing a crop.
But Shafiq Ahmed says that the Agriculture department can only provide guidance about the quality of seeds; it cannot provide seeds to farmers.
“We don’t have any funds or extra seeds to provide them to affected farmers. Such things can only be done by the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA),” he says.
Farmers like Akram Bajwa are very disappointed with the government and they believe that either the authorities have no realization of the seriousness of the issue or farmers’ problems are not on their priority.