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Vidarbha, Marathwada farmers left helpless as white grub infestation spread underground

Rahul Wadke Mumbai | Updated on August 19, 2020

Since white grubs remain underground, their impact and spread are not known immediately   -  REUTERS

Crops such as soyabean and cotton have been affected by white grubs — the larvae of scarab beetles — which are eating into the root systems of the plants

Farmers in the Vidarbha and Marathwada regions of Maharashtra, who are already bearing the brunt of the Covid-induced lockdown, now have one more threat to face. Crops such as soyabean and cotton have been affected by white grubs — the larvae of scarab beetles — which are eating into the root systems of the plants.

In 2016-17, more than 16.85 per cent and 41.25 per cent sugarcane area in South and Central Maharashtra, respectively, had been affected by white grub infestation, leading to major yield losses.

Uncontrolled spread

Agriculture scientist and Technical Director at the Gujarat-based Institute of Soil and Plant Health, Rutuja More, told BusinessLine that white grubs are a known pest of sugarcane in Western Maharashtra. But farmers and sugar mills have been unable to control them in fields due to the lockdown in May and June, thus leading to the pest spreading to other parts of the State.

Since white grubs remain underground, their impact and spread are not known immediately; only when the plants start wilting due to damage to the root system, their true impact is known, she said.

More, who has also worked with the Vasantdada Sugar Institute (VSI), said that white grub infestations have been increasing in Maharashtra over the last six years. “Gradually, their infestations, which were earlier restricted to only a few districts, now cover a large area in the State. The infestations are not restricted to a particular season and have been observed in different stages of life throughout the year.” Alterations in cultivation and agronomical practices, climate change and even use of raw cow dung (not composted properly) as organic manure, which contains the eggs of the adult beetles, are leading to the spread, she added.

VSI is Maharashtra’s premier sugarcane research institution.

Devanand Pawar, farmer leader and General Secretary of Maharashtra Pradesh Kisan Congress (MPKC), said the pest infestation in cotton is a worrying sign in Vidarbha and Marathwada. Since the pests remain underground, its control is very difficult. The farmers are not getting any proactive help from the local Agriculture Universities, he said.

Manure menace

An entomologist working for the State Agriculture Department said the Maharashtra government has been stressing on using cow dung as manure, but farmers are getting untreated and poorly processed dung as manure in the market, which contains the beetle eggs. Such kind of practices are further spreading the pests, he said. “With an active monsoon in Maharashtra, any kind of chemical spray will not work on the plants; the rains need to subside.”

Published on August 19, 2020

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