Pink bollworm may eat up half of State’s cotton crop

Coming up a cropper:The Bt cotton seed Bollgard II is used on 95% of the 40 lakh hectare under cotton.File photo

Coming up a cropper:The Bt cotton seed Bollgard II is used on 95% of the 40 lakh hectare under cotton.File photo  

Warning of unprecedented loss, experts call for quick action to curb spread

The State is staring at an unprecedented loss of cotton crop this year, as the pink bollworm pest is estimated to have affected nearly half of the total crop. Government bodies, committees and even Opposition parties have asked the government to take measures to curb the pest. Failing to do so is likely to harm more crop next year, fear experts.

The government, however, has said the problem is limited to certain areas and the numbers are exaggerated.

Kishore Tiwari, president of the Vasantrao Naik Shetkari Swavalmban Mission — a State government initiative — said, “The infection of pink bollworm has been plaguing the crop for last two-three years, and this year it has affected almost 50% of the crop. The total loss to the cotton economy could go up to Rs. 10,000 crore.”

Mr. Tiwari said he has reported to the government about the extent of the spread of the pest, and that Bt cotton seed Bollgard II (BG II) from Monsanto has failed to counter it. “There is a need to find an alternative,” he said.

V.N. Waghmare, acting director of Nagpur’s Central Institute for Cotton Research, told The Hindu that the infection is on a scale never seen before. “The problem has been growing for last few years in Gujarat and Maharashtra. The pest has overcome the resistance of BG II, and is now overpowering it. It is feeding on the present crop and is here to stay for years to come if serious measures are not taken,” he said.

Dr. Waghmare said that in the absence of urgent action, the pest may spread to a larger area in future.

Past warnings

The inability of BG II to fight the pink bollworm is not a sudden occurence. In December 2015, a report by former CICR director K.R. Kranthi had warned the government that “the pink bollworm [has] developed resistance to two Cry toxins deployed in Bollgard II”.

The Opposition has criticised the government’s inaction against the pest.

“First, the government ignored Dr. Kranthi’s report. Then it sidelined questions raised by me in the legislature. The government’s inaction indicates a major cotton seed scam,” said Dhananjay Munde, Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council.

Farmers, too, are unhappy with the performance of the Bt cotton seed.

“The government failed to maintain quality control on BG II. This is a seed scam destroying farmers. The companies should be penalised,” said Rajan Kshirsagar, vice-president, Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha.

Damage control

Agriculture minister Pandurang Fundkar told The Hindu that his department is at present carrying out panchnamas of the loss.

“Yes, damage has been done in areas of Yavatmal, Wardha, Jalna; in the rest of the districts, the damage is around 5-10%. We have decided certain measures such as selling hybrid seeds from next year, and also mixing in refuge seeds. This will control the damage,” he said.

Mr. Fundkar said that thanks to crop insurance, every farmer will be compensated.

In 2016-17, a total 38 lakh hectare was under cotton in the State, and as per the estimates for 2017-18, the figure is now over 40 lakh hectare. As per the government’s own admission, farmers have used the BG II seed on around 95% of this land.

The State Agriculture Department has already written to the Centre to denotify BG II as it has lost its efficacy to fight the pest.

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