EghtesadOnline: Locust swarms threaten 1.25 quadrillion rials ($9 billion) worth of agricultural products across six provinces in southern Iran, the head of Plant Protection Organization affiliated with the Ministry of Agriculture said.
Stressing that no damage has been caused yet, Mohammad Reza Dargahi added that about 21% of farms and orchards, producing 36% of agro products, 38% of forests and 21% of pastures are located in the six affected provinces, namely Hormozgan, Bushehr, Khuzestan, Sistan-Baluchestan, Kerman and Fars.
The official noted that locusts have invaded 200,000 hectares in the south and PPO has fought the pest on 51,000 hectares so far, IRNA reported.
“Our estimates say we need to battle the pest on 400,000 hectares by the end of the fourth Iranian month [July 22],” Financial Tribune quoted him as saying.
Dargahi said locusts were first spotted in Hormozgan Province’s Bandar Lengeh on Jan. 4.
Earlier this month, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations placed Iran in the group of countries where crops face the threat of desert locusts.
This means that the country should remain vigilant and seriously conduct field surveys and control operations.
Other countries in the same category are Sudan and Saudi Arabia.
To keep the world informed of the seriousness of the current locust situation, the Locust Group uses a color-coded scheme: green for “calm”, yellow for “caution”, orange for “threat” and red for “danger”, FAO writes on its website.
FAO alerted Iran of probable locust attacks on Jan. 21.
"In Iran, groups of adults first arrived on the southern coast in late January from the Arabian Peninsula, about a week after FAO DLIS issued a warning. Additional groups and swarms appeared in February and March, spreading eastwards along the coast where they laid eggs that began to hatch from mid-March onwards. The hoppers formed small groups and a few bands. Although control operations were immediately launched, breeding has continued because of good rains and favorable ecological conditions," reads an April 24 update on desert locust on FAO's website.
“Currently, groups of hoppers and mature adults are primarily present along the southeast coast between Jask and Chabahar and in the interior Jaz Murian Basin. Smaller infestations are present further west along the coast and in interior areas near Bandar Lengeh. Reports indicate that nearly 12,000 hectares have been treated since February.”
Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman have also come under locust attack.
During April and May, breeding will continue in southeast Iran, southwest Pakistan and in the interior parts of Saudi Arabia. Breeding is expected to commence in the interior of Yemen and, to a lesser extent, in northern Oman.
Consequently, locust numbers are expected to increase further, especially in Yemen where it is difficult to carry out survey and control. Surveys should be maintained in all areas and control operations undertaken to reduce the scale of the breeding and any eventual migration to summer breeding areas along the Indo-Pakistan border and the interior of Sudan.
According to the head of Plant Protection Organization, FAO’s experts have traveled to Iran and the regional countries, from which the swarms of locusts have come, to conduct studies on the main reasons behind the unprecedented outbreak.
The official says locusts hitting Iran have come mainly from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman.
Battling the Pest
In order to bring the situation under control, aerial spraying of insecticides has been carried out on 45,000 hectares of farming lands, Iran’s Crisis Management Organization announced on Tuesday.
Plant Protection Organization and the Agriculture Ministry are mainly tasked with fighting the pest, while Crisis Management Organization will play its part in controlling an outbreak.
Saeed Moein Namini, a PPO official, said 120 billion rials ($857,000) are needed to fight the pest.
“The National Disaster Management Organization has agreed to allocate 100 billion rials ($714,000), which awaits the approval of the Cabinet,” he said.
Risk to Food Security
Agriculture Minister Mahmoud Hojjati has said the recent locust attack can put food security in Iran at risk, if proper measures are not taken promptly.
“Some $80 billion worth of agricultural products are produced in Iran annually, $75 billion of which are consumed domestically,” he said.
Hojjati noted that Iran currently meets 85% of its agricultural needs domestically and the rest is procured through imports.
Iran’s main imports include livestock and poultry feed, as well as oilcake and soybeans, which are mainly purchased from the Americas.
The desert locust is among the most dangerous pests that can destroy all greenery, including grains, fodder, vegetables, trees and even weeds on their path. The pest has attacked Iran’s farms in the fiscal 1963-64 and 1993-94. The former caused heavy damage to the country’s farms and agricultural production.
The pest is indigenous to Saudi Arabia, Morocco and African countries, and enters Iran by crossing from across the Persian Gulf.