The locust problem escalated in the country last week as it struggled to tackle the coronavirus pandemic which has infected over 85,000 people across the south Asian nation.

Farmers spray insecticide in a mango tree orchard in Muzaffargarh, Pakistan, Friday, May 29, 2020.
Farmers spray insecticide in a mango tree orchard in Muzaffargarh, Pakistan, Friday, May 29, 2020. (AP)

An infestation to make any farmer despair.

Swarms of locusts have spread across Pakistan, destroying the crops and orchards in their path.

As the country struggles to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, this threat to the already impoverished nation's food security is one problem it could do without.

The invasion of these flying pests began last month.

The insects have wreaked havoc in swathes of farmland in eastern Punjab, southern Sindh and southwestern Baluchistan provinces. They also attacked crops in the northwest bordering Afghanistan.

Farmers were powerless to stop them munching through their precious crops.

"At the time of attack we were busy in our field and orchards. Once they attacked, we tried a lot to force them fly away, but we failed to control them," explains Muhammad Amjad, a local farmer.

Farmers have tried simple measures, liking banging kitchen utensils in the hope of scaring the insects away.

But these basic attempts are no match for the millions of locusts descending on their fields.

The problem escalated last week and farmers called in Pakistan's agriculture officials.

There are now spraying crops with treatment to repel the swarms.

"Damage to mango crops is low, yes damage to vegetables is higher, but we have taken action through our combat team and shifted all the available machinery to the affected areas and started spraying," says Mian Manzoor, a senior agriculture official in Southern Punjab.

Locusts swarm above a mango tree orchard in Muzaffargarh, Pakistan, Friday, May 29, 2020.
Locusts swarm above a mango tree orchard in Muzaffargarh, Pakistan, Friday, May 29, 2020. (AP)

"Mostly we try to spray in the evening, because during the day they fly around, so it's easy to control them at night."

For some of the mango trees at this orchard in Jalalpur, it's too late.

Their fruits have been destroyed and won't be eaten by the farmers or sold for profit.

The locust invasion couldn't come at a worse time - business has already been hammered by the coronavirus pandemic.

"Due to coronavirus we are facing a lockdown situation globally. If the lockdown eased it's very late now, as so far no exporters have contacted us and mangoes are ready. Due to lockdown, rising freight fares are also an issue for us. We are in trouble, we don't know what to do. Now even if we want to sell mango in the local market, again local transporters demand high rents," explains mango exporter Muhammad Rizwan.

Experts estimate Pakistan's mango exports could be down by as much as 35 percent this year.

Farmers say while crops of rabi, a type of grain, were sown in winter and harvested in the spring, locusts are damaging cotton and vegetable crops sown in April.

The National Disaster Management Authority said resources were being mobilised and operations were underway to curb the locust invasion.

Source: AP