Many agricultural experts in Karnataka said that the locust swarms, which have affected at least five states in the northern part of India and have damaged acres of crops, are not expected to cause any major havoc in the state.
Primarily, they noted, only few places in the state have standing crops or crops ready to be harvested. Besides, Karnataka does not have favourable humid conditions and sandy soil for desert locusts to breed. The third factor that works in Karnatakaâ€™s favour, experts pointed out, is the prevalent wind patterns, which mean locusts flying from the north-west will be carried away from the state.
However, Karnataka Agriculture Minister BC Patil held a meeting with Department officials on Thursday as the locusts have reportedly reached the Maharashtra-Telangana border. The Department is also in touch with the Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre (KSNDMC).
GS Sreenivasa Reddy, Director of KSNDMC, said that an inter-departmental team of officers, headed by Brijesh Dixit, Commissioner of Agricultural Department, is monitoring the developments.
â€śWe have been told that the wind direction is not favourable for the locusts to enter our state. At present, from Nagpur, where there are reports of major swarms, winds are blowing towards the north-east and for the next three to four days, there is less chance for the winds to blow towards the state. However, some wind is blowing towards the state from the adjacent Marathwada region,â€ť he said.
An assistant professor and expert in pests at the University of Agricultural Sciences, Gandhi Krishi Vignana Kendra (GKVK), Bengaluru, told TNM, â€śSo far, there have been no infestations of locusts in Karnataka, although there were unconfirmed reports that Bombay locusts had come to Karnataka before the 1920s. We are yet to find it in our archives.â€ť
According to the expert from GKVK, who did not wish to be named, female locusts need to lay their eggs in sandy soil, and the soil here might not be as favourable as the desert.
â€śIf the eggs are not moist enough, they wonâ€™t be able to hatch. Even if the locusts reach Karnataka, the female locusts are likely to have already laid their eggs and are in the fag end of their lives,â€ť he said.
He dismissed reports from Kolar, where a farmer was alarmed when some pests damaged his crops. The district administration rushed to his field to assess the situation. However, experts from the Agricultural Department later found that it was allegedly yakka grasshopper, a common insect that controls the Calotropis weed or keeps it in check.
No major impact on crops
The expert noted that since the monsoon has not begun, major crops are not ready to be harvested. However, it could pose a problem for people who are growing horticultural crops, including fruits and vegetables. â€śEven if they don't feed on the fruits, they hang on to mango and banana trees, thus damaging the produce,â€ť he said.
Sachin Meega, president of the Raithara Sangha Congress (Congress Farmersâ€™ Cell), said that there is no large-scale farming at present and that sowing will begin only in a week or two.
â€śIn Belagavi and Raichur divisions, there are some places where people are growing ragi, rice and wheat, which are near tank bunds or near irrigation canals to draw water from. Moreover, farmers who have access to sufficient water supply are growing cotton in some parts of north Karnataka as the third crop in the year,â€ť he said.
While rice harvesting is underway in central Karnataka, Davangere and Shivamogga districts, seeds are yet to be sown in other parts of the state, added Sachin.
Government needs to prepare farmers
However, Nimisha Agarwal, an expert in climate change and agriculture, said it is not possible to predict if the state will be impacted.
â€śGiven that the swarm has entered Maharashtra, the impact in Karnataka would be determined by the current wind flow pattern. Locust infestation was common in Rajasthan. It is the scale of the problem that has taken many by surprise this year. It would be effective if the government is issuing guidelines to farmers on how to be prepared in case the swarms reach the state,â€ť she said.