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AGRICULTURE

Crop damage from locust unlikely as Rabi harvest complete; horti at risk
Tuesday, 02 June, 2020, 14 : 00 PM [IST]
Our Bureau, Mumbai
Over the last few days, swarms of locust have been sighted in parts of Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh (MP), Uttar Pradesh (UP), and Gujarat.

In this regard, Pradeep Dave, president, Pesticides Manufacturers and Formulators Association of India (PMFAI), and industry players, and analysed the impact of the locusts on farmers and agrochemical players. The key insights:
 
Locust attack: Definition and degree of severity
-       The desert locust is a short-horned grasshopper.Innocuous when solitary, locusts undergo a behavioural change when their population builds up rapidly.
-       They enter the ‘gregarious phase’ by forming huge swarms that can travel up to 150 km per day, eating up every bit of greenery on their way.
-       These insects fly during the day and are known for feasting on all sorts of plants and standing crops. They destroy flowers, fruits, leaves, seeds, bark, and growing points.
-       If not controlled, locust swarms can threaten the food security of a country.
Early arrival of locusts a blessing in disguise for standing crops…
-       In India, locusts are normally sighted during July–October, along the Pakistan border.
-       What led to their early arrival? – This can be traced back to the cyclonic storms Mekunu and Luban that had struck Oman and Yemen, respectively, in 2018.
 These turned large desert tracts into lakes, facilitating locust breeding, which continued through 2019. 

Swarms attacking crops in East Africa reached peak population from November, and have multiplied exponentially in southern Iran and Pakistan since the beginning of 2020, with heavy rains in East Africa over March–April enabling further breeding.
-       Rabi harvest starts in April and ends in May. Thus, farmers currently do not have major standing crops on the field at risk of attack. However, horticulture (fruits and vegetables) crops are at risk of a washout in Rajasthan, Maharashtra, MP, UP, and Gujarat.
Horticulture at risk
-       MP, UP, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra cumulatively contribute 38% to India’s 312MMT of horticulture production (2017–18).
-       Vegetables constitute 59 per cent of the horticulture production in India, and the above-mentioned states cumulatively contribute 39 per cent to production.
-       31 per cent of the horticulture production in India comes from fruits, and the above-mentioned states account for 40 per cent of this production.
-       Summer fruits in India include mango, watermelon, orange, muskmelon, sweet lime, jackfruit, black plum, lychee, pineapple, figs, and ice apple. 
-       If the locust attack is not curtailed, horticulture production at these states would be impacted.
-       Generally, January–March is the period for the sowing of sugarcane; any locust attack may impact sugarcane crop in UP. UP constitutes 45 per cent to the normal sugarcane sowing area of India.
 Measures attempted to curb spread
-       Pesticides are used by the government and farmers to curb the spreading of the attack.
-       Pesticides mainly used to control locusts are Chlorphyrifos (Sumitomo Chemicals, Gharda, UPL, Coromandel, Insecticides India, and Bharat Rasayan), Melathion (Rallis, Coromandel, and Sumitomo), and Deltamethrin (Bayer Crop, Insecticides India, and Meghmani).
-       Currently, the country has deployed 89 fire brigades with pesticide spray, 120 survey vehicles, 47 control vehicles with spray equipment, and 810 tractors mounted with sprayers for effective locust control, as per the requirement on different days.
-       On May 28, 2020, the Union Agriculture Minister announced that 15 sprayers would arrive from Britain over the next 15 days.
 Besides this, 45 more sprayers would be procured over 1-1.5 months. Drones would be used to spray pesticides on tall trees and inaccessible places for the effective control of locusts.

 Moreover, plans are afoot to deploy helicopters with aerial spray. An adequate stock of pesticides is being maintained (53,000 litre Malathion) with locust-control organisations.

 Loss currently limited, but risk persists
-       The outbreak has to stop before the arrival of monsoon rainfall in June/July, when the locusts would mature and breed. If infestation is not controlled, it would pose a threat to kharif crop.
-       As per a media article, the situation could worsen, with more swarms expected to reach India via Pakistan from the Horn of Africa in June. Thus, this poses the risk of a second wave of attack in the kharif season.
 View
-       The impact of the locust attack is currently minimal given that the Rabi harvest is already complete (impact expected on horticulture produce); however, if the attack is not curtailed, it would pose a risk to kharif production, in turn impacting farm profitability.
-       Coromandel International and UPL in our coverage universe are likely to benefit from pesticide sales for controlling the locusts.
-       However, an uncontrolled attack would affect kharif profitability, thereby reducing the use of pesticides/fertilisers. This may weigh on the performances of agrochemical companies.
-       We have a Buy rating on PI Industries and Coromandel, and Neutral rating on UPL.
 
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