The “wheat blast” disease, which first struck Brazil in 1985 and some other Latin American countries destroying three million hectares of cultivation, has now invaded India, affecting wheat crop in two bordering districts of West Bengal -Murshidabad and Nadia.

“Around 800 hectares in eight blocks of the two districts of Murshidabad and Nadia have been affected by the Wheat Blast disease,” state agriculture minister Purnendu Basu confirmed.

Another official in the department said that around 1,000 hectares had been affected by the disease, which was first noticed at the Jalangi block of Murshidabad district in the last week of February.

From Jalangi, it has spread to the blocks of Domkal, Raninagar-I, Nawda and Hariharpara so far and affected wheat production in more than 509 hectares of land in Murshidabad district, the official said.

“In Nadia, the disease has affected wheat production in more than 500 hectares in blocks of Tehatta-II and II, Karimpur I and II and Chapra,” he said.

Burning crops

Basu said that the state government was burning standing crops to prevent the disease from spreading to the rest of the country.

A team from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) scientists visited the two districts and was conducting a survey jointly with state government representatives.

In fact, after the outbreak in the southern districts of Bangladesh, the ICAR had cautioned the Centre, describing the matter as “quite serious” and suggested adoption of a strategy to fight it, Dr Jeet Singh Sandhu, Deputy Director General (Crop Science) Division of Crop Science, Krishi Bhavan, ICAR told PTI from Delhi.

A letter to the state government was sent last year warning it about the possibility of the fungi entering the state through its border with Bangladesh.

Dr Sandhu said, “Because of the fact that the fungus floats in the air, it is difficult to contain it since cattle can also act as a carrier. This is quite a serious matter and we need to check this anyhow because if it spreads to other states then the entire wheat cultivation will be affected.”

Apart from asking the West Bengal government to destroy or burn the wheat grains immediately, the ICAR has constituted a team to check the spread of the fungus, he said.

“As burning the affected crop is the best possible way to contain the spread of the fungal infection as of now...the vigilance must be continued for the next two to three years as it may have gone to host plants,” Dr Sandhu said.

The ICAR has asked the Ministry of External Affairs to hold a diplomatic discussion with the Bangladesh government on the issue and devise research strategies for the same, Dr Sandhu said.

Checking the spread

It is learnt that a team of scientists from the Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research in Karnal will soon undertake surveillance in Bihar and Jharkhand on the spread of the fungus.

The agriculture minister has put the blame on the BSF for the outbreak of the disease in the state, claiming that the government had cautioned the farmers about the disease last year itself.

“The BSF also has some role because it allowed these agents to enter,” Basu said.