Locusts Threaten Food Security in India and Pakistan

Locusts in India. Image: DW

by Julia Fine

Last month, we wrote about the outbreak of locust swarms traveling from East Africa to the Indian subcontinent. Now, as the New York Times reported yesterday, the locusts have made their way to New Delhi. The capital region’s fields, metro stations, suburbs, and more are now teeming with swarms. 

We previously noted that the swarms were catalyzed by the warming of the Indian Ocean, which in turn caused heavier rains and bigger storms which could provide ideal breeding conditions for the locusts. That, combined with the lack of containment measures taken, created a perfect storm for these crop-decimating swarms to go unchecked. 

And, the unusually strong winds across India the past few weeks have pushed the locusts from Rajasthan into Delhi. India is now taking action, trying to kill the swarms with pesticide-releasing drones.  


Why This Matters: According to the Times, COVID-19 has already caused immense damage to India’s agricultural sector, with unemployment numbers skyrocketing. These locusts could compound that damage, with some estimating that over 200 million acres of crops may be destroyed. Already, according to the chief spokesperson of the Indian National Congress party, over 1 million hectares of farmland have been affected by the swarms. Because of all this, India is facing its most intense food shortage in the past 27 years


Little Relief For Farmers: Despite the already-immense damage the locusts have caused to farmlands, insurance companies in India refuse to compensate farmers for these losses because Prime Minister Modi has not yet declared locust attacks a natural disaster. On Sunday, the opposition party demanded that the government do so, in order for farmers to be able to recoup losses. While some states have passed certain relief measures, the compensation is often insufficient

In the absence of an emergency declaration, farmers have been encouraged by the government to clap plates together to protect their crops from locusts swarms–a measure that provides little protection against millions of swarming insects.

The Traveling Swarms: India is not the only country in South Asia facing the swarms. Indeed, Pakistan has declared a national emergency, as the locusts have already devastated the country’s economy and food systems. As The Guardian reported, this is Pakistan’s “worst plague of locusts in recent history.” The swarms have decimated billions of dollars of crops, inducing fears about food insecurity in the region long-term. 

As NPR explained, locusts are ravenous eaters. An adult desert locust that weighs about 2 grams (a fraction of an ounce) can consume roughly its own weight daily. And they’re not picky at all. 

  • According to the FAO, a swarm of just 1 square kilometer — again, about a third of a square mile — can consume as much food as would be eaten by 35,000 people (or six elephants) in a single day.
  • Countries already struggling with food insecurity are especially vulnerable to these swarms. 


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