A tiny black bug had caused much grief to banana farmers in the State but a successful trial has kindled hope that cultivation can be carried out without fear of pests or of the cost or side-effects of hazardous chemical pesticides.

Named ‘Nanma’ by researchers at the Central Tuber Crops Research Institute (CTCRI), this substance has proved to be effective. Testifying to its worth are the farmers near Pallichal, who agreed to its application.

K. Shibu, a farmer, said the result of the bio-pesticide had come as a welcome relief.

At his plantation, a tract of land had been labelled as a demonstration plot for the management of the banana pseudo-stem weevil using cassava bio-pesticide.

The careful application of the trial was evident with each row treated with different concentrations and as ‘controls’ to ascertain the qualities of the substance through comparison.

“This was a 100 per cent effective, as there are no casualties and even the yield is higher by a couple of kilos per tree. Because of how damaging the weevil is, we were forced to hunt for pesticides. All that was available were not effective and had harmful side-effects as well,” said Shibu. Itchiness of the skin and stinging pain in the eyes were to be expected after a brief application of those chemicals, he added.

Another farmer from the neighbouring plot, Selvarajan supported Shibu’s claims and even described the trees as more healthy-looking and even greener. “It is a bio-pesticide intended to preserve the tree from slow death by the pests but they seem to have a clear impact on the yield of fruit and even nature of the leaves,” he said.

Principal Scientist (Entomology) CTCRI C.A. Jayaprakas said they would be studying whether the substance had an effect on the chlorophyll production as well.

Moreover, while CTCRI prescribed the substance solely to be used against the pseudostem weevil, farmers experimented on their own and found that it could be used against other pests as well.

Nine farmers, affiliated to a collective based in Pallichal called Sanghamythri Farmers Producer Company Ltd took part in the project. An incentive of around Rs.20 per tree was offered to encourage them to take part in the project.

Balachandran Nair, chairman of the collective, said a bit of a coaxing was needed for they were hesitant to sacrifice the little yield they get in case the trial was not successful.

He also said he was very grateful to CTCRI for their intervention in areas that desperately needed amendment.

CTCRI, the farmer’s collective, and a non-governmental group called Centre for Innovation in Science and Social Action (CISSA), will be conducting a harvest festival on June 14 to celebrate the unprecedented success of the trial, carried out under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana project.

Rich harvests are expected in the three districts where the trial was held including Kasaragod and Malappuram as well. Thiruvananthapuram is the first to show off the pesticide’s success.