Organic farming, the seductive way

Pheromone traps help lower usage of chemical pesticides

August 12, 2017 11:28 pm | Updated 11:28 pm IST - HYDERABAD

A farmer

A farmer

Sexual attraction in the insect-world is helping scientists preach and propagate organic farming in the State.

The ongoing pheromone development programme at the city-based Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT) has seen a group of the institute’s scientists synthesise chemicals to mimic effects of sex pheromones, chemicals released by insects to attract members of opposite gender.

These chemicals, synthesised to attract male members of several crop-damaging pest species, are now helping many farmers cultivate crops without chemical pesticides. Additionally, they have also greatly lowered costs.

“Sex pheromone excreted by a female, attracts the male pests. We synthesise these pheromones in the lab and place them in traps in fields,” said B.V. Subba Reddy, a scientist who is leading the effort at IICT.

According to Dr. Reddy, the synthesised pheromones are loaded in small silicone capsules, about a centimetre long.

Adult male insects, in their reproductive phase of their life cycle, detect the pheromone and enter the trap, expecting to find female mates.

The insects are eventually killed after being trapped.

“Killing the adult male prevents proliferation of the pests. The eggs that surviving female pests lay in the absence of males are infertile. Eventually, the pest population dies,” he added.

Users of the technology say that pheromone traps help lower usage of chemical pesticides and reduce farming cost by more than 50%.

“The cost of conventional chemical pesticide for a crop like brinjal or chilly is ₹8,000 per acre per month. It costs less than ₹1000 to use pheromone traps,” said Vinod Tandra, secretary of the Eklavaya Foundation, which is working with IICT to get farmers to adapt the technology.

Besides the cost benefit, pheromone traps help lower load of hazardous chemicals on the crop, the ground water and eventually in the food cycle.

IICT is helping farmers in Telangana and other States keep away the notorious Pink bollworm from cotton, the Yellow stem borer from rice and other borers that destroy vegetable crop. This year, the State Government wants the research institute to help cotton farmers in Adilabad, greatly troubled by the Pink bollworm.

“Further research is under way to make bio-degradable or environment-friendly material to load the synthesised pheromone, instead of silicone. Research efforts are also being made to develop pheromones that attract females,” said B. Nagendra Babu, another IICT scientist.

Farmers also express the need for pheromones to control female pests, as they lay several eggs.

Their control can exponentially reduce pest population.

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