Brazil declares crop emergency as locust plague nears border

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s agriculture ministry on Thursday declared a crop emergency in two southern states amid the possibility a cloud of locusts could enter the country from Argentina.

The “state of phytosanitary emergency” is a bureaucratic step paving the way for Brazil’s government to implement plans to suppress the plague and take other emergency measures in case the insects reach the farmland in Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina states. The ministry said in a statement it doesn’t currently expect that to occur.

The cloud of locusts that originated in Paraguay and caused massive damage to its corn plantations has, for the past several days, spread through northeast Argentina and devoured crops there. On Thursday, it was in Corrientes province, some 100 kilometres (62 miles) from Brazil’s border, according to Argentina’s food safety and health authority, Senasa.

Senasa said current climate conditions indicate it is most likely the cloud travels to Uruguay in the coming days. Brazil’s agriculture ministry likewise said in its statement that meteorological data for the southern region indicates low probability of the cloud entering Brazilian territory.

“We have hope that if some of the cloud reaches Brazil, it will be much diminished,? agriculture minister Tereza Cristina said in the statement.

News of the nearby plague of locusts was met with gallows humour on social media and in editorial cartoons in Brazil, which is already in the throes of a health crisis. The nation has registered the world’s second highest count of COVID-19 deaths and cases since the pandemic began.

Brazil has suffered plagues of the same species of locusts in 1938, 1942 and 1946 that originated in Argentina. Since 2015, clouds of locusts have repeatedly appeared in the region of Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina, the Brazilian agriculture ministry said in its statement, adding it is believed that climate change — with greater alterations in temperature and humidity — has caused the insects to swarm more frequently.

Marcelo De Sousa, The Associated Press

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