Thursday 28 May 2020

Long Shadow Of The Locust

Imagine this scenario.

You’re a farmer in a country, let’s call it, oh, just let’s say it’s called India.

You don’t have much of a farm. In your grandfather’s time it might have been quite large, and fertile, and the rains irrigated it plentifully every summer so that his crops never died of thirst. Even if there was a year or two when the monsoon rains failed, there was a tube well and more than enough groundwater to ensure that the harvest wasn’t a failure. And whatever your grandfather produced, the government guaranteed that it would buy it at a certain price, known as the minimum support price, so he knew that even if he couldn’t sell it at a bigger profit in the open market, he could still depend on a certain guaranteed level of income, just so long as his crops continued to grow.

But that was then.

Things happened. First, with increasing health care standards, no matter how imperfect, more of your grandfather’s offspring lived to adulthood than in his father’s time. So your grandfather’s farm was divided among your father and uncles. And, in time, your father married and bred, and more of your siblings survived to adulthood than in your father’s generation, which meant that his share of the farm was divided again between you and your brothers. So, you ended up with only a tiny fraction of your grandfather’s farm.

Meanwhile, other people have been breeding too, and their children, too, have been surviving to adulthood in hitherto unprecedented numbers. So, to house them and to supply food for them, and to rip coal and oil and minerals out of the ground for them, forests have been chopped down; and to supply the thirsty cities with water, rivers have been dammed and their water piped to said cities. Chimneys have been spouting smoke from factories, because the government has decided that unchecked industrialisation is the only path to “growth” – and also because the corporations owning those industries are important sources of funds for elections and to buy up politicians afterwards. All this has done enough damage to the climate that the rain has grown increasingly erratic and unreliable, so that you’ve had to rely more and more on your tube well to irrigate your patch of field. The groundwater level, in consequence, has been falling, and falling, and you’ve had to borrow money to dig your tube well deeper and deeper – and still the water continues to fall.

All this while, your own expenditures are climbing. Things are more expensive. Your tiny patch of field doesn’t bring in enough to pay the bills unless you begin to plant multiple crops a year. This is turn exhausts your soil, leaching out the fertility, which earlier used to be renewed because your grandfather could afford to leave it fallow between planting seasons. So you have to buy huge amounts of fertiliser as well as farm machinery, because the old ways are no longer productive enough. Pests invade your field, and the pesticide you used to use no longer work because the pests have developed resistance. So you have to buy more expensive pesticides. Because the pesticide, fertiliser, and farm machinery are not free, you have to borrow money to buy them, so you slip into debt.

Then the government decides on “economic liberalisation”, which means that it starts systematically pandering to the corporations that provide it with money. Suddenly, your minimum support price is no longer paid on time, or is simply abolished altogether. You can’t pay your loans back to the banks from where you took them. They threaten to foreclose on your land. So, in order to pay them off, you borrow again, this time from the village moneylender. And then an unseasonal storm, which happens more and more frequently, comes along and kills off your entire harvest.

You think you have problems? Your problems are just beginning.

Because there isn’t anything like enough money coming in from your farm to pay your bills and even the interest on your loans, in between plantings and harvests you need some other income. So you look for work, as a labourer or whatever else you can manage. Work isn’t available in the vicinity, so you have to travel long distances, often to the other side of the country – and it’s a big country – to look for work. In a desperate attempt to make ends meet, you hire yourself out as a labourer for some months, rush back home, harvest and plant, try and sell on the market, try to keep your head above water, and then rush off to work as a labourer again.

Meanwhile the cost of machinery and fertiliser keeps increasing, the groundwater levels keep dropping, your debts keep piling up, some foreign company called Monsanto cajoles and bribes the government to compel you to buy seeds from it – seeds that cease to grow after one season, so every year you need to buy seed stock from Monsanto again, instead of using leftover seed from the previous year to plant again. And it begins to rain when it shouldn’t, drowning your crops, and it’s bone dry when it should be raining, so that what you have left withers to straw poking through cracked brick-hard soil. And the government, which you voted for, doesn’t care. It wants to grab your fields to hand over to its capitalist cronies for factory farms or just factories, and the worse things get for you, the better said capitalist cronies like it.

You see where we’re going with this?

Then, just when you think things couldn’t get worse, they do.

You’re in the city, working at a temporary job as a construction worker, and you need to come back to your tiny farm because the harvest is due. But just as you’re about to, suddenly the government imposes a curfew because of some foreign disease that is supposedly killing people left and right. Your employer dismisses you and doesn’t even give you your back pay, on the grounds that he has no money. You can’t even step out into the street without being beaten by the police, even to buy food; and, if you do manage to sneak out of the city, you don’t have any way of getting home. There are no buses, no matter what the politicians claim, no trains, nothing. So, with no other option, you begin walking home along the highways, under the grilling midsummer sun, while the government spends taxpayer money to bring in rich Indians who abandoned the country for greener pastures abroad and suddenly find themselves unwelcome in their new homelands.

Meanwhile, your brother, who’s stayed back on the farm, has his own problems. The harvest can’t be sold because the markets and distribution systems are all shut because of the government’s lockdown. There are no preservation or storage facilities, so the produce can’t even be kept relatively fresh, and, even if there were, he couldn’t afford the fees. So what option does he have except to dump the stuff in the fields to rot in the sun?


It isn’t the worst yet, oh, no.

While all this was going on, the climate worldwide has been going to hell, too. Forests have been disappearing, fossil fuels have been filling the skies with smoke and carbon dioxide, ice caps have been melting, the ocean currents have been changing as a consequence, and scientifically illiterate imbeciles have been pretending all of this is a hoax. Evaporation from oceans that are warmer than they used to be has warmed the air above and filled it with moisture. The warm air, rising, has drawn in colder air from around it to warm in turn, pick up moisture, rise, and bring in yet more colder air, until you have a gigantic vortex of rotating cloud and wind, spiralling towards land, bringing not just destruction but heavy rain wherever it goes. This thing is known as a cyclone.

This cyclone hits, shall we say, another – possibly fictional – country called Saudi Barbaria, which is mostly desert. It dumps so much rain that actual, literal lakes develop in the desert. This sudden moisture causes an equally sudden proliferation of vegetation. And, before the sun has an opportunity to parch this vegetation to mummified hay, yet another cyclone comes along and dumps another few thousand tons of water on the desert, creating even more greenery.

Great, right? Green is good, right?


There are animals living in that desert, notably insects, those most adaptable of all creatures. One of those insects is a, usually inconspicuous, middle-sized short-horned grasshopper called Schistocerca gregaria. This is a rather well-known insect; it’s been featured in no less than the Bible and the Koran, and you may even have heard of it under its common name.

Schistocerca gregaria is also known as the desert locust.

Locusts are grasshoppers. Grasshoppers eat vegetable matter. When there is a lot of vegetable matter, the grasshoppers lay a lot of eggs, which hatch to form many more grasshoppers, which live to grow to adulthood because of all that easily available vegetable matter, and lay more eggs, which give birth to more grasshoppers, which...

You get the idea.

And then there are so many grasshoppers that they begin to eat all the vegetation. And the cyclones don’t keep coming, so the lakes dry up, as the desert returns to its usual state, and the greenery, without water, begins to die off. So the grasshoppers crowd together to get at whatever little vegetation remains, because they don’t want to starve to death any more than you do. And when they get packed in tightly enough together, they bump against each other, just as you would in those crowded unreserved railway compartments in which you’d travel back to your hometown from your construction job in the city.

Now, unlike ordinary grasshoppers, locusts – there are many species, all of which are short-horned (that is, with short antennae) grasshoppers – do a special thing when there are a lot of them in such close proximity that their hind legs bump each other. Their biochemistry changes, with increased production of the hormone seratonin. Their bodies change colour, in the case of Schistocerca gregaria to yellowish pink and black. 

Their habits change – normally night-flyers, they now switch to flying during the day, and instead of maintaining distance from each other, they now actually seek out each other’s company. This is known as the gregarious or migratory phase. Soon, the massive agglomeration of these insects takes off in search of new food deposits to devour.

And, because of that global warming, there have been unseasonal rains here and there, so the locust swarms have plenty of food. They land, eat, have sex, lay eggs, and, with their ranks swollen by the new generations, set off again on their mission of conquest, flying up to a hundred and fifty kilometres a day. Oh, and they can cross oceans too, because when they get tired, they rest on the floating corpses of their friends who died of old age or exhaustion and float, bobbing on the waves.

Now these locusts have been migrating east and west for two years, devastating countries with names like “Ethiopia” and “Somalia”, “Yemen” and “Kenya”, which you’ve never heard of. But the government, with its overeducated bureaucrats, has most certainly heard of them. It is aware that two neighbouring countries, let’s call them, for fun, “Iran” and “Pakistan” have been hit hard in recent times. Just the previous year, in fact, Pakistan had some 40% of its crops eaten by locusts, which isn’t a small amount. In fact, a one square kilometre swarm of locusts – which is an extremely small swarm – can eat, in one day, as much food as would be needed to feed, wait for it, 35000 people. Locust swarms can extend over hundreds to thousands of square kilometres.

In reality, locusts are such a menace, and have been such a menace through history, that the United Nations’ Food And Agriculture Organisation (FAO) monitors them closely and warns governments when their countries are about to be attacked. Your own government – the same one that has stopped paying your minimum support price and is having you beaten up for coming out in the streets – knows that the locusts invaded the country last year, but did nothing, claiming that the insect swarm had receded without doing any crop damage.

Well, right now, those swarms are back. They’re back earlier than ever, in greater numbers than ever, and they’re eating their way across the west of the country. In fact they’ve been doing it for some time, but that same government and its tame media, which ignored your existence as long as possible, ignored the swarms too, until they blanketed the city of Jaipur, known for its pink sandstone construction, in a pink blanket of hungry insects. Then, suddenly, the media deigned to notice it. Because it had no choice.

So, to recapitulate.

The agriculture sector had already been devastated by shrinking farms, dropping groundwater levels, irregular and unpredictable rainfall, and cyclones, The government has taken a policy decision to let small farmers die, literally and metaphorically, by neglect so that the farming sector can be taken over by corporate cronies to set up factory farms and car manufacturing plants. Farmers are drowning in unpayable debt that keeps piling up as their land becomes agriculturally unsustainable. And then you’re walking the highways starving after being thrown out of your job without pay, the economy has packed it in, what of the harvest was collected is unsaleable and had to be thrown out to rot, and now a plague of ravening pinkish grasshoppers is eating every bit of vegetation in sight.

Right. Not only was much of this – in fact every bit of it except the COVID-19 outbreak – totally predictable, none of it just turned up overnight. All of this has been developing over years to decades, and the successive, post-1990, governments of India not just ignored it, they actively connived and encouraged most of the worst of it. They, and their paid media prostitutes, actively promoted the idea that the manufacturing industry was the only way to economic “progress”, and, to do this, the farm sector would have to be sacrificed. I remember asking multiple times on internet fora over the years whether people would be expected to eat cars and television sets, and being downvoted en masse every time.

But people cannot eat cars and television sets, and with the economy sliding downhill into the nether doldrums, there is no longer any market for cars and televisions; the vehicle industry has been moribund for well over a year. And the farm sector isn’t doing exactly well for the reasons I’ve already mentioned, so that, for the first time in thirty years, the level of average nutrition is actually dropping in India. And the Modi regime has systematically ignored all of this, including the gigantic locust plague which has been moving towards India for over two years now.

And by gigantic, I mean that this is the largest plague in 78 years. It’s also much more dangerous than any plague of comparable size 78 years ago. Why? For the simple reason that the population of the planet is much, much higher than 78 years ago, and vulnerable areas – east Africa and west and south Asia – are infinitely more stressed than they were 78 years ago. Not to speak of the fact that global warming causes more and more of the flood-drought cycle that promotes swarming, and that two of the worst affected countries, North and South Yemen (I do not consider them to be one country any longer, as a supporter of the now fait accompli South Yemeni independence), have been under invasion and a starvation blockade by Saudi Barbaria and the Imperialist States of Amerikastan since 2015.

Therefore, the chances of famine are extremely high, and, since the Modi regime has shown absolutely no signs of changing its policies, have been growing higher and higher. And now the locust swarm, which is spreading steadily eastward and northward towards the agricultural heart of India, is in the act of delivering the coup de grace.

I have noticed that the Modi regime’s pet media, after a couple of days of finally admitting the existence of the locusts, have suddenly made a point of repeatedly mentioning that the locusts “entered from Pakistan”. I assume that this is not accidental; nothing the Modi regime’s media does is innocent, accidental, or without the acquiescence of the regime. I can only speculate that if the regime fails to halt the locusts through the measures it is now allegedly taking – spraying pesticides from drones – it will move on to accusing Pakistan of deliberately sending the hordes of Schistocerca gregaria over the border to harm India. This would be on a par with the Trump regime in the Imperialist States of Amerikastan accusing China of creating COVID-19, a claim parroted by paid CIA agents on Indian social media.

Speaking of which, the Modi regime – in a desperate and transparent attempt to divert attention from its endless failures – is trying to provoke a border confrontation with China. Except for the fantasy world of Modi’s pet television channels, Republic and Times Now, this is going over like a lead balloon.

Starving people have more immediate concerns than that.

Anyway, if and when the Modi regime decides to blame Pakistan for the locusts, I’ll make it easy on them and give them proof. Here’s your Jihadi Locust, Jihadocerca pakistaneria.

You’re welcome.