Coconut farmers in and around Pollachi and Udumalpet regions are alarmed at a virulent whitefly menace sweeping the region.
The bug, which is just about 2 mm in size, has been plaguing coconut plantations in the region for over two years now. Farmers say their appeals to the State Agricultural Department and other authorities for help have fallen on deaf ears.
“More than 75 per cent of the trees (shorter varieties and hybrids) have been impacted, but no one is taking us seriously,” said R Ragunathan, a farmer.
The pest is understood to have affected the hybrid dwarf trees mostly and the tall trees and native species seem to have withstood the infestation.
“This could be due to high resistance of the native species, coupled with the bugs’ inability to fly higher than 30 feet to reach the leaves of the older (tall) trees,” a farmer said.
Farmers explained that the bugs sucked the coconut sap, fed on the under-surfaces of the leaf and left deposits of their sugary excretion. “This attracts ants, leading to fungus formation and impacts plant growth,” the farmer said.
T Sakthivel, Director, Vinayak Coconut Producer Company, said the farmers had taken up the issue time and again with the State government, but to no avail.
At least 11 per cent of the country's coconut production is from Pollachi region. This belt has been craving for attention for more than a decade. The Eriophid mite attack had forced several farmers to abandon the trees around 2005-06. Many left their home town to eke out a living to repay their debts.
This was followed by years of drought. Though the monsoon has been erratic, the region recorded some good rains during the last season. This, coupled with water conservation initiatives by Marico under the aegis of Parachute Kalpavriksha Foundation, has started to bear fruit.
Farmers say they have adequate water now, but the whitefly menace and acute shortage of farm hands made farming unviable.