Farmers have a new headache: Pest attacks on cotton, maize
The fall armyworm is known to devour entire crop fields in as little as one night
New Delhi: Farmers in several states are battling growing incidence of pest attacks on a variety of crops. While in Maharashtra, the dreaded pink bollworm is back after decimating around 80% of the cotton crop in the state last year, farmers in Karnataka are battling a new invasive pest called the fall armyworm feeding on maize and sorghum crops, spotted for the first time in the Asian subcontinent.
The threats farmers face from pest attacks are often localised but underlines the multitude of risks apart from those related to monsoon failure or a crash in crop prices.
On Tuesday night, farmers from Maharashtra’s Jalna district filed an FIR at a local police station against a Hyderabad-based seed company as cotton crops were damaged by the pink bollworm pest.
“Around 80% of my cotton crop is infested with the pink bollworm insect and the (genetically modified) BT cotton technology has failed to provide the promised resistance... the situation in similar in most of the districts of the Marathwada region,” according to Krushna Bonde, the farmer from Jalna who filed the FIR.
Vijay Niwal, a farmer from Yavatmal in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region said the extent of incidence will be clear in the next 20-25 days as flowers of the cotton plant turn into bolls. According to Niwal, the problem is severe in the state as farmers prolong the crop by up to four to five months to harvest more pickings of cotton, as they do not have a second (winter) crop ahead.
“This helps the pest to propagate next year instead of breaking its life cycle,” he said. The knowledge that Niwal has acquired due to repeated pest infestations currently eludes maize growers in Karnataka.
On 30 July, the National Bureau of Agricultural Insect Resources (NBAIR) Bengaluru posted an invasive pest alert. Based on field investigations earlier in July, it reported 70% incidence of a new pest, spodoptera frugiperda or the fall armyworm, on the maize crop grown in Chikkaballapur, Karnataka.
“Currently the pest is restricted to maize and sorghum but it has the potential to damage 80 different crops,” according to AN Shylesha, principal scientist, entomology, NBAIR. The pest could have arrived a year or two back from either the Americas, or from Africa, where it was first reported in 2016, he added.
The fall armyworm is known to devour entire crop fields, like an army on rampage, in as little as one night. Shylesha said the pest was found in Andhra Pradesh too.
According to the Nigeria-based International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the fall armyworm’s entry in the Indian subcontinent was “particularly worrying” because the pest had an unrestricted access to a whole new region of the globe.
The pest is likely to spread to other states such as Tamil Nadu and further expand to newer countries, including Bangladesh and Pakistan. “This will put the maize production of the whole Asian continent seriously at risk with dire economic consequences,” IITA said on 4 August.
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