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Pesticides overkill in Punjab killing friendly insects that control pest attacks

August 12, 2019
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Pesticides overkill in Punjab killing friendly insects that control pest attacks

AMRITSAR, Punjab: Amrik Singh, 46, a Bathinda-based farmer, was in despair after the entire cotton crop on his three-acre land was destroyed by whitefly in 2017. He then decided not to sow cotton anymore and moved to cultivate other crops.

Like him, there were hundreds of farmers who bore the brunt of the pest attack. In 2015, the whitefly attack on cotton fields had destroyed over 70% of the standing cotton crop and forced the state government to deliberate over the issue. Experts and agricultural scientists have now brought the focus on beneficial insects, whose population has substantially eroded over the past years owing to indiscriminate use of pesticides and chemicals by farmers in the state.

Agriculture department Joint Director Dr Sukhdev Singh said that with the use of chemicals in agricultural fields, friendly insects useful in controlling the population of pests also get killed. He attributed the rise of whitefly attacks to the decline in the population of friendly insects.

Alarmed by the attacks, the state government formed a contingency plan in which farmers were advised to not use chemicals during the first 60 days of crop sowing. Whitefly sucks the sap from leaves, causing poor photosynthesis, and triggers leaf curl virus disease.  BD Sharma, Assistant Plant Protection Officer at Central Integrated Pest Management Centre, Jalandhar, said the indiscriminate use of pesticides had depleted the population of friendly insects including ladybugs, spiders and Chrysoperla.

“After sustained efforts, now the population of beneficial insects is improving in fields of farmers in Punjab,” he added.

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The area under cotton cultivation in the state was 5.11 lakh hectares in 2009-10. It declined to 3.39 lakh hectares in 2015-16 and further to 2.57 lakh hectares in 2016-17, according to the state government. This was the time when whitefly attack on the crop had sent alarm bells ringing among the farming community.

Many farmers in the state’s Malwa region, which is known for its cotton crop, have started growing paddy and Basmati owing to the threats posed by the pests. Amrik Singh said the Minimum Support Price of paddy and the low risk of pest attacks has aided to the shift from cotton to paddy.

Long-term use of pesticides has also made an impact on the fertility of the soil in Punjab and also on the microorganisms helpful in agriculture.

A study by Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, noted: “Indiscriminate, long-term and over-application of pesticides have severe effects on soil ecology that may lead to alterations in or the erosion of beneficial or plant probiotic soil microflora. Weathered soils lose their ability to sustain enhanced production of crops/grains on the same land. However, burgeoning concern about environmental pollution and the sustainable use of cropping land have emphasized inculcation of awareness and the wider application of tools, techniques and products that do not pollute the environment at all or have only meagre ecological concerns.”

The PAU has been conducting seminars and lectures on the importance of beneficial insects in agriculture for the farmers from far off areas of the state. Recently, the Department of Entomology in association with Indian Council of Agricultural Research held a seminar in which techniques of Integrated Pest Management—an approach to sustainably manage insect—were explained.