Food security fears as locusts destroy crops in Pakistan's worst plague since the 1990s

Pakistan's worst locust plague in decades has devastated parts of the south west as swarms have ravaged wheat, cotton and vegetable crops, farmers' leaders said.

The country is battling its worst infestation of the marauding insects since the 1990s and a swarm earlier this month descended on the port metropolis of Karachi for the first time since the 1960s.

Locusts struck first earlier this year, but the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation has warned a serious threat remains as swarms now start to leave their summer breeding grounds along the India-Pakistan border.

The insects are hitting some of the poorest rural parts of Pakistan, where malnutrition is already common and farmers are often heavily in debt.

Zahid Bhurguri, general secretary of the Sindh Chamber of Agriculture, said the attacks had destroyed up to 40 per cent of crops as swarms plagued Tharparkar, Mirpur Khas, Sanghar, and different districts of Karachi. Wheat, cotton and tomatoes had all been ravaged, he said.

“The farmers are very worried as they have seen their crops being destroyed in front of their eyes. These farmers should be compensated," he told the Telegraph.

Locust swarms can fly up to 90 miles per day and if good rains fall and conditions are favourable, can increase their numbers 20-fold in three months. Locust adults can eat their own weight every day and a swarm can consume vast quantities of food.

Almost all crops and non-crop plants are vulnerable and the insects are one of the biggest threats to food security in large parts of the world. Shahnawaz Baloch, a 39-year-old farmer at Gaddap on the outskirts of Karachi said the locusts had destroyed his eight acre carrot crop earlier this month.

“We are trying to run the locusts away through self help as the authorities haven't extended any help. We despite all efforts are unable to save our crops due to massive attack” he said. "It was an army of locusts which landed at our lands and destroyed the crops in a while," he said. “The locusts attack has deprived us of our crops, our livelihood."

Locusts impact much of the Middle East and Asia and officials have blamed the chaos in war-torn Yemen for this year's blight in Pakistan. A failure to control the pests in Yemen meant they gradually grew in number as they passed through Saudi Arabia and Iran before entering Western Pakistan.