Pink bollworm a nightmare for Bt cotton growers

Most of the crop in Raichur district has been destroyed by the pest

Updated - March 24, 2016 01:56 pm IST

Published - December 05, 2015 12:00 am IST

Farmers showing Bt cotton crops that were attacked by pink bollworm (inset) at a field in Kadagamdoddi village near Raichur on Friday.— PHOTOs: SANTOSH SAGAR

Farmers showing Bt cotton crops that were attacked by pink bollworm (inset) at a field in Kadagamdoddi village near Raichur on Friday.— PHOTOs: SANTOSH SAGAR

handasab, a farmer from Kadagamdoddi village in Raichur taluk, spent Rs. 2 lakh to cultivate Bt cotton on 15 acres that he had taken on lease. Before he could harvest the first round of yield, the entire field was destroyed by pink bollworm.

“I dread visiting my cotton field and seeing this devastation,” he told The Hindu on Friday. He is not the only farmer to face this problem.

Veeresh K., from the same village, who cultivated Bt cotton on 18 acres of land said the crop was destroyed by the pink bollworm. He incurred a loss of over Rs. 3.5 lakh.

Lakshman Gowda, another farmer whose Bt cotton on 10 acres was destroyed by the pest, has uprooted the plants and cleared a portion of his field to cultivate other crops.

Disheartening stories of Bt cotton farmers are unfolding across Raichur district, which is one of the major cotton growing districts in the State. The extent of loss is yet to be measured as no survey has been conducted. Cotton is cultivated on nearly 60,000 hectares of lands in the district, most of which is Bt cotton. Farmers started switching to the crop in big numbers in 2007-08 and there has been increase in acreage over the years since then.

Chamarasa Malipatil, State president of Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, claimed that around 40 per cent to 50 per cent of Bt cotton was destroyed by the pink bollworm this year, not only in Karnataka but also in Telangana.

Bt cotton is genetically engineered with a gene from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and is toxic to the bollworm, a pest that preys on the cotton plant. There’s also the possibility that the plant is being attacked by other insects. A team of agricultural scientists from the University of Agricultural Sciences, Raichur (UAS-R) will be visiting some of the affected fields to study the pest menace.

“The pink bollworm, with its negligible population, was not a threat to cotton crop when the Bt technology was developed. But over a period of time, the worm massively increased its population and is now causing maximum damage to the crop,” said Dr. Jayaprakash Nidagundi, associate professor, Plant Breeding, UAS-R.

A.G. Shreenivas, associate professor, Entomology, UAS-R, pointed out that Bt cotton is vulnerable to climatic variations and attack by sucking pests and insects outside the resistance-claim purview. Farmers control sucking pests, usually found at the backside of leaf, by heavily spraying different pesticides.

“But we cannot control pink bollworm through pesticide spraying as it is inside the cotton boll. The cotton bolls look absolutely normal from outside. But, each boll is infected by the pink bollworm inside. The worm eats cotton seeds and thus prevents the development of cotton staple fibre around it well before the cotton boll opens,” explained Mr. Veeresh. He opened cotton bolls that seemed normal on the outside and showed this reporter the worm in each one of them.

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