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Children try to drive away desert locusts swarming in the Okara district of eastern Pakistan's Punjab Province on Saturday. Some countries in East Africa, West Asia and South Asia are experiencing seldom-seen plagues of the insects. (Photo/XINHUA)

A group of Chinese experts arrived in Pakistan on Monday to extend a helping hand to tackle the country's locust plague, which is threatening the South Asian nation's food security. The experts are inspecting severely hit regions and will donate equipment and offer technical support to help local governments tackle the plague.

At a news conference in Karachi on Wednesday, Chinese experts said chemical pesticides and biotic pesticides remain the best and most-effective method to stamp out the massive plague of locusts in large areas of Pakistan, adding that using ducks had proven inefficient in tackling similar situations in South Asia and East Africa.

Zhang Long, a professor at China Agriculture University and a member of the expert team, said the method of breeding ducks to eat locusts, a traditional Chinese method, can only be applied in certain circumstances in very small areas, and pesticide remains the most efficient way to curb Pakistan's locust plague.

Wang Fengle, leader of the team, said the use of ducks "is just an exploratory topic discussed by some academics" and will not be included in the Chinese government's assistance plan.

Previously, Chinese media had reported that 100,000 ducks from Shaoxing, Zhejiang province, were likely to join the fight against the ongoing swarms of locusts in Pakistan, which is facing its worst such infestation in 27 years.

Lu Lizhi, a researcher at Zhe-jiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said the academy was considering cooperation with two Pakistani universities — Sindh Agriculture University and Lasbela University of Agriculture, Water and Marine Sciences — on breeding ducks to devour the insects, according to thepaper.cn.

In early February, the Pakistani government declared a national emergency in response to swarms of desert locusts destroying crops in the eastern part of the country.

In China, using ducks to eat locusts is a traditional way to fight the scourge, but today it only plays a minor role in tackling locusts.

Lu from Zhejiang said he would recommend Guoshao ducks from Shaoxing, which are larger and have an extraordinary capability for hunting, to fight off the locusts in Pakistan. They were used in the fight against locust attacks in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in 2000.

According to Lu, two PhD candidates from Pakistan are planning to travel to Xinjiang after the novel coronavirus epidemic is over and conduct research with Chinese experts.

There are various methods to deal with locust invasions, such as using pesticides. Lu said preventing and controlling locust attacks in a biological way, including breeding ducks to eat them, could help with the ecological restoration after killing these insects.

Predators and prey live in the same ecological system and rely heavily on each other, so it's necessary to take all elements in the system into consideration when making detailed plans, Lu noted.

Locust swarms have already destroyed swaths of farmland in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia in East Africa, threatening food supplies.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the invasion of locusts, which started in December, further worsens food security in East Africa, where more than 19 million people are already experiencing a high degree of food insecurity.

The UN said that a swarm of locusts can vary from one square kilometer to several hundred square kilometers, with up to 80 million adult locusts in each square kilometer of a swarm, and that desert locusts can travel about 150 kilometers in a day and can eat their own body weight in plant material, meaning a small swarm can consume as much food as 35,000 people in a day.

The UN has however warned that an imminent second hatch of the insects in East Africa could threaten the food security of 25 million people across the region.

Nibbling their way across a large part of Africa in the worst outbreak, locust swarms are now threatening South Asian countries, with India taking extra measures to ward off a new outbreak that could ravage crops. India is buying drones and specialist equipment to monitor the movement of locusts and spray insecticides.

Locust outbreak threatens food security in East Africa, international response urged

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