China has stepped up the alert in case swarms of locusts that have laid waste to agricultural land in Pakistan, India and East Africa find their way across its borders, a government agency said on Monday. “Although experts believe that the risk of swarms entering the country and causing disaster is relatively low, [China] will be hampered in tracking the locusts by a lack of monitoring techniques and little knowledge of migration patterns [if they do] invade,” the National Forestry and Grassland Administration said in an emergency notice on its website. Beijing has convened a task force to watch for, control and – if possible – prevent the arrival of the voracious insects. The government also planned to hold a meeting of experts this month to discuss and coordinate nationwide swarm prevention efforts, including an emergency warning system. While the Chinese government said the locust threat was small, alerts have been stepped up since mid-February, when the agriculture ministry decided to track the locusts’ movements and study ways of keeping them out. Agriculture in China had a difficult year in 2019, hit by the crop-gobbling fall armyworms which spread across a million hectares of farmland, as well as African swine fever that halved the country’s herd of 440 million pigs through preventive culling. A locust swarm could drag China’s coronavirus-stricken economy down farther. More than 80,000 people have been infected with the virus which has killed more than 2,900, bringing many of the nation’s industries to a near halt, Chinese authorities said on Monday. In 2018, agriculture contributed about 7.2 per cent to China’s total GDP, according to Statista, a German market and consumer data company. China hog-farming stocks expected to bring home bacon for investors Desert locusts are one of the world’s oldest and most destructive pests, causing damage to crops, pasture, and bark. According to the United Nations, a swarm measuring a square kilometre can consume as much food in a day as 35,000 people. At the end of January, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation called for an international effort to deal with the worst outbreak of desert locusts in decades. The swarms in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia were of “unprecedented size and destructive potential”, the agency said. The heaviest monsoon rains in 25 years across India and Pakistan last summer triggered explosive growth in vegetation, creating ample food for more of the insects. The UN warned that the swarm could lead to a crisis in world food security. Beijing said that if climate provided the right conditions, possible locust routes into China would be through Pakistan and India into Tibet, then into southwestern Yunnan province. Migration through Kazakhstan into neighbouring western Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region was also possible. In February, Zhang Zehua, a researcher at the Institute of Plant Protection of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, told state news agency Xinhua that the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in northern China could serve as a shield against the swarms. “It is extremely unlikely that desert locusts will directly migrate into China’s inland areas, but if the overseas desert locust plague persists, the probability of locusts entering China in June or July will sharply increase,” Zhang said. Last month, the agriculture ministry said that locusts were most active where temperatures reached around 40 degrees Celsius and humidity was about 60 to 70 per cent, meaning it would be difficult for them to survive in southern Tibet. Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A. Offer valid until 31 March 2020.