A massive swarm of locusts has migrated from Iran to Pakistan, raising fears that an attack on the country’s prized cotton crop could be imminent.
Millions of insects have recently invaded Sindh, Pakistan’s second-largest cotton producing province, according to the Ministry of National Food Security and Research. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has deployed aircraft and spray-mounted vehicles to treat about 10,000 acres in the southern province as a preventative measure.
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“The insects have not hit our crops so far, fortunately,” Muhammad Hashim Popalzai, a federal secretary at the food security ministry, said on the phone from Islamabad.
Pakistan is desperate to prevent further decline in its cotton industry as it seeks to shore up its economy after securing a bailout package from the International Monetary Fund last month. The country’s textile industry is its biggest job provider as well as its largest foreign exchange earner.
Pakistan mainly depends on home-grown cotton for its textile industry. Output in the year to June is forecast to fall about 18% to 9.86 million bales, the lowest in at least 17 years, according to official data.
Initially from the Arabian Peninsula, the desert locusts swarmed from the Red Sea coast of Sudan and Eritrea in January, hit Saudi Arabia and Iran in February, and southwestern Pakistan in March, the ministry said.
The authorities have already treated some areas in insurgency-hit southwest Balochistan province, which has a relatively small cotton crop, said Falak Naz, a director general of crop protection at the ministry.
The bigger concern is for Sindh and Punjab provinces, the country’s top cotton growing areas. Falak said the insects were feeding on wild bushes in Nara desert, about 20 kilometers away from the cotton crop in Sindh.
“We expect it will not damage the crop and we will be able to restrict it there,” said Popalzai.