The News: The Ningbo Evening News in China reported that Beijing was planning to send 100,000 ducks to Pakistan to help fight the infestation. The report came as Pakistan faces the worst locust infestation it has seen in the past two decades. Prime Minister Imran Khan has declared a national emergency in the country to protect crops from the locust plague.
The Chinese Army: An army of ducks is useful in a locust invasion as their natural diet includes insects. A duck can eat up to 200 locusts in one day. The Chinese news report claiming that “an army of ducks” would be sent to Pakistan from Zhejiang province in China, received 520 million views and hundreds of comments on the Chinese social media platform Weibo. China has been known to use ducks to successfully counter a similar infestation in the north-western Xinjiang region, around 20 years ago. Ducks that prey on locusts are a much simpler solution to the crisis, as they are inexpensive, environmentally-friendly and easy to manage.
Controlling infestation: While the ducks didn’t make it, a team of Chinese locust plague prevention and control experts were sent to Pakistan’s aid. Zhang Long, one of the experts and a professor at China Agricultural University, claimed that China will not be sending ducks to Pakistan. He explained, “Ducks rely on water, but in Pakistan’s desert areas, the temperature is very high”. Chinese experts suggested the use of biological or chemical pesticides through aerial sprays. Khusro Bakhtiar, the national food security minister, said that the locust swarms are concentrated on the Pakistan-India border. “Action has been taken against the insect over 0.3 million acres (121,400 hectares) and aerial spray was done on 20,000 hectares,” he maintained. However, experts reiterate that not only are some pesticides harmful to the environment, they also leave a residue on the crops and may even damage the soil.
Implications: This particular breed of desert locusts can fly up to 150km (90 miles) and eat as much as 35,000 people in one day. The massive locust infestation is causing considerable damage to the country’s agriculture and raising concerns about food security with inflation already on the rise. Many crops including maize, cotton, and wheat have already been damaged before the harvest. Farmers are afraid that even if the agriculture industry survives this infestation, the locusts will be back in swarms after the next breeding season in June-July 2020.
Flying around the world: The United Nations reported that heavy rains and cyclones fostered good breeding conditions for desert locusts in the Arabian Peninsula. The swarms then dispersed to other countries from Ethiopia in East Africa to India and entered Pakistan through Iran. It is estimated that the weather will remain favorable to the explosive growth of the locusts. A second locust infestation could cause significant damage to agriculture, which contributes around 20% to Pakistan’s GDP and is a major source of food supply and earning for the population.