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India is facing its worst desert locust invasion in nearly 30 years, and the climate crisis is partly to blame.
Lobsters have made headlines when they entered the city of Jaipur, as reported by The Indian Express, but the crop-eating insects have been wreaking havoc since May in an invasion that started earlier and is spreading further than usual. Several farmers told The Wire that they had not seen such a major invasion in their lives.
“ Even my father, who is 86 years old, said that he had never seen anything like this. I’ve only heard of this in folk tales , “Sooraj Pandey, a 64-year-old farmer from Madhya Pradesh, told The Wire.
Lobsters are not rare in the state of Rajasthan in northwestern India, but this year they have also entered the states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh for the first time since 1993 and the state of Maharashtra for the first time since 1974. Nor they tend to enter Rajasthan this far from the border with Pakistan, according to an AFP report published by Al Jazeera.
So far, the insects have eaten up nearly 50,000 hectares or 123,500 acres of farmland in seven Indian states, The Associated Press reported , putting pressure on farmers who are already battling the impacts of the coronavirus lockdown.
The government has responded with pesticides, drones and vehicle-mounted sprayers, while farmers have resorted to hitting plates, whistling and throwing stones to scare away locusts.
“ These insects are giving us sleepless nights. We are more concerned about them than the virus , ”Mandeep Singh, a cotton farmer from Punjab, told The Associated Press.
A swarm of 40 million locusts can cover the space of one square kilometer and eat the same as 35,000 people in a day, according to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reported by The Wire.
Unusually large locust clouds reared on the Arabian Peninsula in early 2019, following heavy rains and cyclones in the region, according to AFP. Those ideal breeding conditions were a product of the climate crisis, as warmer-than-usual temperatures in the western Indian Ocean fueled the storms.
Lobsters have already caused significant damage in East Africa in early 2020 before migrating to India via Iran and Pakistan.
The lobster situation in India could get even worse, both this year and in the future.
In the short term, more lobsters could arrive from Africa in June, according to AFP. There are also concerns that lobsters already in India could breed, The Associated Press noted.
“This is an alarming situation ,” KL Gurjar, a senior official at the Indian Lobster Alert Organization, told The Associated Press. “ But we are more concerned about their reproduction. If that happens, it could be devastating for our farmland . “
In the future, climate change could also make locust invasions like this year’s more common.