EDITORIAL: While farmers in different regions of this country have been reeling from locust attacks, a new large-scale invasion of the pest is expected to come in July from Africa, via Yemen and Iran. According to experts, 60% of areas in Balochistan, 25% in Sindh and 15% in Punjab have already become breeding grounds of the desert locust because of this year's wet winter season. In a report released last month, the Food and Agriculture Authority, (FAO) had warned that if not controlled effectively this infestation could cause losses worth Rs 817 billion to Pakistan's agriculture production this year, “in the midst of additional impacts by Covid-19 on health, livelihoods and food security and nutrition of the most vulnerable communities and populations of Pakistan."

Rather belatedly, the federal government has spurred into action to face the challenge with the setting up of a National Locust Control Centre. Speaking to journalists on Friday, Minister for Food Security and Research Syed Fakhr Imam said Rs 20 billion has been allocated, under the Annual Development Plan, to locust control, adding that the federal government would contribute Rs 9.7 billion while the rest of the amount is to be shared by the provinces. It is unclear if the announcement was made with the consent of the provinces, though he claimed that the coordination between the Centre and the provinces was, by and large, good. That seems quite an optimistic characterization of the situation considering that during the recent months Sindh has repeatedly been complaining of lack of cooperation from the federal government. In fact, the day before the minister made those remarks, PPP leader Sherry Rehman had issued a statement criticising the Centre for ignoring the provincial government's request for assistance. She had grumbled that the province had asked for six aircraft for aerial spray but received just one. That may well be the result of paucity of resources rather than wilful neglect of an opposition-ruled province. For, the consequences are not to remain restricted to that part of the country. In any event, Information Minister Shibli Faraz said on Thursday that nine jets and helicopters have started taking part in spraying missions which would be increased to 15 by July.

Meanwhile, Vice President of Sindh Abadgar Board, Mahmood Nawaz Shah, has also expressed concern over the prevailing situation, describing the efforts as disjointed. Going forward, he noted that the FAO had issued an alert that huge swarms of the insect are developing in Yemen and Africa and soon they would be on their way to Pakistan, to call for coordinating preventive measures with Iran and India. The suggestion makes ample sense. Also at least for now, the federal and provincial governments need to forget their political differences and join hands to avert the looming locust infestation. All sides must avoid playing blame game over the issue.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020