Even as Indo-Pak ties are at an all-time low now, the two countries are jointly fighting the worst ever locust attack of 26 years.
Tiddis or locusts, which entered Pakistan in March-April from Iran and Saudi Arabia, have attacked Balochistan, Sindh and parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat. While the Indian Army based in Pokhran is also supporting the Locust Warning Organisation (LWO-India), which comes under the Directorate of Plant Protection and Quarantine and storage (DPP) in the Agriculture Ministry, the Pakistan Army is helping LWO-Pakistan to quarantine areas of Sindh and Balochistan.
Both LWO-India and LWO-Pakistan officials met in June and July to discuss a combined strategy to quarantine locusts that have spread over 1.5 lakh hectares of land in India and Pakistan.
Tiddis (locusts), a short-horn grasshopper, can travel long distances in large numbers and destroy the crop that comes in its way. They basically originate from Africa, enter the Middle East, mainly Iran and Saudi Arabia, and then finally enter Pakistan and India.
Tiddi terror has its origins in ancient times. It finds mention in the Bible and the Quran and ancient Egyptians carved them on their tombs. During the past two centuries, tiddi-terror devastated crops and was a contributory cause of famines and human migration, said KL Gurjar, the Deputy Director, DPP in the Agriculture Ministry.
“Locust attack of this magnitude was last seen 26 years ago in 1992-93. Though they have been entering India through Pakistan almost every year the numbers were very insignificant and were controlled in Jaisalmer region,” he said.
Only second-generation swarms enter India and the Pokhran firing range is their favourite breeding ground. They lay eggs near Khetolai village in Pokhran, near the Pokhran-II nuclear blast site. But they are not harmful as they have lived their age and do not eat much. The problem starts with the newly fertilised tiddis, they eat a lot and are larger in number and destroy whatever comes in their way, Gurjar said.
In the Pokhran firing range, the army has stopped firing practice and is helping LWO-India to prevent second-generation tiddis from spreading, he said. More than 42 vehicle-mounted sprayers are being used in Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Barmer, Jalore and Bikaner to quarantine locusts in Rajasthan, he said. A few more are operational in the Gujarat border as well, he added.
So far India has controlled and quarantined 52,571 hectares of land in Rajasthan. Every day one mounted vehicle is quarantining 125 to 150 hectares of land, which means LWO has the capacity to clear more than 5000 hectares of land on a daily basis, he said.
On the Pakistan side, though the locust attack is more spread out and intense, it has reportedly controlled only 39,000 hectares till the last Indo-Pak LWO meeting in July at Khokrapar in Pakistan, Gurjar said.
Tiddi terror in India and Pakistan is reportedly spread over 1.5 lakh square km ~ almost ten times the size of the Kashmir valley ~ and can affect over 20 million farmers in Balochistan, Sindh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and part of Punjab. Yet this is just the tip of the iceberg compared to its spread in Africa and Middle East countries. In Iran alone it has spread in seven lakh hectares of land and 3.5 hectares of land in Saudi Arabia, Gurjar said.