May 16, 2020 / 3:52 AM / 21 days ago

Iran may use military against locusts threatening crops

FILE PHOTO: Desert locusts are seen on a tree at a ranch near the town of Nanyuki in Laikipia county, Kenya, February 21, 2020. REUTERS/Baz Ratner/File Photo

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran may use its military for a second year to help fight locusts that have invaded the south of the country, an Agricultural Ministry official was quoted as saying on Friday, as the swarms threaten to destroy crops worth more than $7 billion.

The locust invasion, seen as the worst in decades, compounds problems facing Iran, already hard-hit by the coronavirus outbreak at home and seeing its oil exports sink to a record low as the virus crisis sharpens the impact of U.S. sanctions which further limit shipments.

Mohammad Reza Mir, a spokesman for the ministry’s Plant Protection Organization (PPO), said the desert locusts had attacked more than 200,000 hectares (494,000 acres) of orchards and farmland in seven of Iran’s 31 provinces, the semi-official news agency ILNA reported.

The affected areas, stretching from eastern Iran on the border with Pakistan to the southwestern border with Iraq, were likely to soon increase to 1 million hectares, Mir told ILNA.

“The military have promised to help fight the desert locusts, including by providing all-terrain vehicles for use in areas which are hard to access,” Mir told ILNA. “Last year the military provided personnel and vehicles, and that was a big help.”

Mir said anti-locust operations had so far prevented “any damage”, without giving details.

PPO’s head, Mohammad Reza Dargahi, said last month that locust swarms threatened 1,250 trillion rials ($7.4 billion) worth of agricultural products across six provinces in southern Iran, the daily Financial Tribune reported.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates agricultural losses to neighbouring Pakistan from locusts could be as high as $2.2 billion for winter crops alone.

Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Toby Chopra

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