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All-out joint war on pink boll worm to save Bt Cotton

With the dreaded pink boll worm attack looming over the current seasons Bt Cotton crop across 11 states, an aggressive communication campaign #SecureFarmer2SecureIndia has been launched with the involvement of a number of stake holders, including public and private sector establishments.

Over the years, Bt Cotton’s resistance to pink boll worm (PBW) has reduced and during the last season alone the pest has caused 20-25 per cent loss to the crop across the states. This year, the loss could go up, which could lead to a major agrarian crisis, experts say.

To overcome this problem, the union government has recommended a unique RIB (Refugia In Bag) concept, wherein 25 grams of non-Bt Cotton seed is mixed with 450 grams of Bt Cotton seeds. This enables planting non-BT cotton which can host PBW wild insects and prevent resistance build-up in PBW.

Earlier, farmers generally ignored this process and cotton crop fell victim to pink boll worm attack. During the current season, however, the National Seeds Association of India (NSAI) has taken up the issue on a war footing and revived the RIB concept.

“The field staff of various seed companies have been working proactively to impress upon the farmers the need to go for RIB and save their main crop,” said National Seeds Association of India (NSAI) President P. Prabhakar Rao, who is also Chairman and Managing Director of Nuziveedu Seeds Limited, the largest cotton seed company in the country.

“We are also working very closely with several state agricultural universities who, too, have come to the aid of farmers and we are happy that the efforts have begun to yield positive results,” Rao said. “This is part of our multi-prong campaign #SecureFarmer2SecureIndia and we have made a beginning with cotton.”

“Compared to last year, the awareness levels are higher now and farmers are managing this problem much better. They are using pheromone traps to detect the presence of pink boll worms early in the season… spraying required agrochemicals as preventive action,” said NSAI General Secretary and seed technologist A.S.N. Reddy.

Several seed and pesticide companies have also begun to distribute pheromone traps as part of their CSR projects. More than 100,000 traps have already been pressed into service both by public and private sector establishments for early detection of PBW attack, NSAI said.

NSAI has also represented to the Union Agriculture Ministry to popularise the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programme which involves crop rotation of cotton with other crops, biological control of insects with the help of insects and parasites that devour pink boll worms and destroying crop residue and trash in the field.

As per government statistics, cotton is grown on 10.5 million to 12.5 million hectares (or 25-30 million acres) across 11 major growing states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha and Tami Nadu. In peak years, the cultivated area may touch 12 mha.

Boll worms are still the most dangerous pests of cotton, as they thrive on boll or fruit of cotton which contains Kapas or fibre, thereby causing severe economic damage, said Dr S.B. Patil, Professor in the Department of Agricultural Entomology, University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad.

“Efforts are being made to contain the pest growth at the egg stage itself by deploying pheromone traps for early detection and our university is also actively educating farmers,” he said.

Entomologist B. Rosaiah, former Associate Director of Research at N.G. Ranga Agriculture University, Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, said the pest is a problem in all cotton-growing countries and in India its attack is proven to be severe in late sown cotton crop — in July and harvested in November-December.

Nuziveedu Seeds Limited is also bringing in a new Bt trait which is a two-gene trait combination. They expect regulatory approvals in two years. This trait is showing good results in bio-assays conducted in their labs, said its Director of Research Sateesh Kumar P.

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