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Argentina Combats Locust Cloud, as Brazil Stays on Alert

Last week, the advance of a locust cloud put the Brazil and Argentine authorities on alert. According to a bulletin released by the National Service for Health and Agrifood Quality (Senasa), the locust cloud came from Paraguay, where it destroyed corn crops. The cloud’s movement has been influenced by wind direction and high temperatures. The pest travels up to 150 kilometers in a day and has the capacity to destroy large areas of crops and pastures in a few hours.

After locating the locust cloud on Friday, the Argentine government began applying insecticides to the swarm. In a video published on the Senasa Twitter account, it is possible to see a person spraying agrochemicals and a large amount of insects flying over the site.

The Union of Agricultural Aviation Companies of Brazil – Sindag noted on Saturday that a coordinated attack on the insects in Argentina resulted in a 15% reduction in the cloud.

“As the region of Corrientes where they landed was difficult to access, Senasa took a while to locate the insects,” said Sindag president Thiago Magalhães.

And on Monday, Globo Rural magazine reported that after three operations to eliminate locust clouds in Argentina, health authorities said that the pests were moving towards the Paraná River, distancing themselves from Brazil and Uruguay.

“After focused controls, a clear sky and temperatures close to 20º C were sufficient for the movement to the west,” said Agronomist and Head of Senasa, Hector Emilio Medina.

More specifically with respect to Brazil, the government decreed a phytosanitary emergency due to locust cloud on Thursday.

“This decree needs to be made before the event so that, if it happens, some actions can be taken by the state governments where there is a possibility that this cloud will arrive,” said Tereza Cristina, minister of agriculture in Brazil.

The locust cloud was almost 10 kilometers long, totaling 400 million insects. CNN Brazil explained that a kilometer of one of these clouds can have 40 million locusts, with the potential to devour the amount of food that 35 thousand people, or two thousand cows consume daily.

According to BBC Brazil, the plague entered Argentina on May 21, but soon returned to Paraguay and remained in the country for a week before returning to Argentine territory. The Argentine provinces of Santa Fé, Formosa and Chaco have been the most affected so far.  The cloud moves throughout the day and settles down late at night. So, the time interval in which it is possible to take pest control measures is short and occurs when there is little visibility.

Zero Hora newspaper explained how the locusts that formed a cloud live in Argentina. They are diurnal and migratory insects. The cloud of these locusts moves during the day until dusk. They are polyphages, that is, they usually feed on a wide variety of native and cultivated plants.

In a video published on the Twitter, Senasa Argentina clarified myths and truths about the plague.

Risk of insect clouds to attack crops in Brazil is leading entities and governments to discuss a permanent strategy against the problem, according to analysis published in Canal Rural.  On July 2, representatives from Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay will have a video conference to discuss the topic. The objective is to define information about the pest, techniques and tools to monitor these insects.

Meanwhile, in the same week, Sputnik Brasil agency reported that “desert locusts” invaded the city Gurugram, near the national capital of India. This is the first time that these insects have invaded this financial and technological center, as they generally prefer rural areas.

As a more global and historic perspective regarding the agricultural impacts of locusts, O Globo newspaper noted that locusts have destroyed crops in Africa and Asia and the insects have been monitored by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) since the 1990s. In January this year, large swarms spread across Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.

Joana Colussi is a journalist and visiting researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Previously, she has reported on various agribusiness and economics topics for prominent Brazilian media publications, such as Grupo Globo affiliates. Joana holds a Master’s degree in Agribusiness, and is a Ph.D. candidate in Management at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS-Brazil).

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