Agri Business

Pink bollworm tears into the very fibre of Maharashtra’s cotton growers

Rahul Wadke Recently in Yavatmal | Updated on January 27, 2018

Withered hopes Cotton bolls eaten by pink bollworm at Baldi village in Yavatmal, Maharashtra.   -  RAHUL WADKE

1.3 million ha of the 4.2 million ha under the crop suspected to be infected by the pest

The colour pink is associated with love, beauty and fashion.. But in Yavatmal district of Maharashtra, pink has become synonymous with death and destruction. Pink bollworm (PBW) has ravaged the cotton crop in the district, where farmer suicide has been rampant.

The pink bollworm eat away the cotton fibre and the bolls, causing economic loss to the farmer. This reporter travelled across Yavatmal and saw lush cotton fields with tall shrubs, but the bolls eaten away by the worms.

Huge crop losses

According to first advanced estimate for 2017-18, the cotton acreage in Maharashtra will be 4.2 million hectares, compared with 3.8 million hectares last year. Of the total area under the fibre, about 1.3 million hectares are suspected to be infected with the PBW .

Agriculture experts and farmers fear crop loss ranging from 50 to 80 per cent in the district, which is a part of the larger Vidarbha region. The devastation is especially acute in Umarkhed taluk.

Farmers are angry, particularly with the large companies that sold them genetically-modified seeds, which were supposed to protect their cotton crop from just this pest — the pink bollworm.

Production hit

28-year-old Rehan Ullah Khan, whose 5-acre farm is located in Baldi village close to Umarkhed town, is in deep distress. Khan says he was expecting at least 100 quintals, but due to the pest attack, he could collect barely 30 quintals.

Khan is not even confident of recovering the ₹1 lakh input cost, forget the ₹4 lakh he had hoped earn selling his cotton produce.

“In early October, I realised that the bolls are long past their time to ripen and burst open to reveal the cotton fibre. Today, due to the attack, I have no alternative but to uproot the cotton shrubs,” he said. He said that though the State government is promising monetary assistance to the farmers, it will require a lot of supporting documents, which farmers do not have. Farmers rarely keep records of their purchases or empty seed packs.

Coming after last year’s demonetisation troubles, caused massive problems to the farmers. This year it is pink bollworms. The problems of farmers continue in Yavatmal.

Amol Patingrao, a cotton farmer from Krishnapur village in Umarkhed taluk, too, has a similar tale to share. Patingrao has a 10-acre farm on whichhe had planted cotton (8 acres) and turmeric (2 acres).

“This year, rain was also irregular which led to multiple pests attacks. But bollworm caused the maximum damage. Even the increased dosage of insecticides did not help as the PBW infests the main cotton boll, which is closed from all sides. Once a worm enters the boll, it seals the entry hole but continues to devour the fibre from inside,”

Patingrao hoped to harvest 80 quintals of the fibre but has managed only 20 quintals. His turmeric crop was also damaged by the irregular rain and attack by the white grub pest. “The failure of the two crops has destroyed my life,” Patingrao laments.

Government aid

Maharshtra’s Minister for Agriculture Sadabhau Khot has announced that cotton farmers will be compensated for losses incurred becasue of the PBW attack. Surveys of the affected area are under way, but the methods of providing the compensation are yet to be worked out.

Veteran farm leader and Chairman of Vasantrao Naik Shetkari Swavalamban Mission Kishor Tiwari told BusinessLine that the government is in a state of a shock given the devastation brought about by the PBW. By initial estimates, the State’s cotton economy has lost about ₹10,000 crore.

This is an unprecedented situation as over 50 per cent of the cotton crop has now been lost to the bollworm. The pink bollworm attack should have been repulsed by the genetically-modified seeds. But that did not happen, he rues.

Published on November 22, 2017

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