Caterpillar infestation and continuous drought have hit yield

The precarious groundwater situation and the black-headed caterpillar infestation have hit coconut growers in Ramanagaram district.

Coconut is grown on nearly 12,000 hectares in the district, with growers here supplying at least four crore tender coconuts annually to various parts of the country. This year, however, they have been forced to axe thousands of dying trees over the past two months. Along the Bangalore–Mysore highway between Ramanagaram and Channapatna, are hundreds of coconut trees, looking as if they are burnt.

The black-headed caterpillar has the tendency to spread quickly from one tree to another, causing nuts to shrink or fall from the tree before they fully develop.

“Nearly 25 per cent of the crop has been hit by the disease,” Krishna, Deputy Director of Horticulture (Ramanagaram), told The Hindu over phone on Monday. Besides, scanty rainfall and depleting groundwater levels had also taken a toll on growers, he said.

According to K. Puttaswamy, former State secretary of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha and himself a coconut grower, the KRRS had found that at least four lakh coconut trees had stopped giving yield because of the caterpillar infestation and continuous drought.

The department had taken steps to educate farmers on saving their crops, including through classes conducted at farms, Dr. Krishna claimed.

According to another officer, growers have been advised to use neem-based pesticides, take up root-feeding method, spray bio-agents that eat away the caterpillar onto affected trees, and follow proper irrigation methods.

However, Mr. Puttaswamy alleged that the departments concerned were not doing enough to save the trees.

Officials were advising growers to spray pesticides, but this was not possible on tall trees, said Beereshwara, a farmer near Maluru Patna in Channapatna.

Mr. Puttaswamy urged officials of the Coconut Development Board and the Central Plantation Crops Research Institute to visit the affected farms and take up research.

“When the State government can offer subsidy for fishermen to purchase diesel for their boats, why can’t it lend a helping hand to coconut growers here,” he asked, calling for compensation for growers.