India is among the world’s leading cotton producing nations with Gujarat leading from the front. Saurashtra (in Gujarat) accounts for nearly 70 per cent of Gujarat’s total production, besides housing 625 ginning mills handling 65 lakh bales of cotton, according to the 2016-17 data of Rajkot-headquartered Saurashtra Ginners Association. Cotton here is also referred to as white gold. However, in the recent past, the cotton farmers of the region have been in fear of the pink pest. The year 2017 witnessed pink bollworm (PBW) attacks on the cotton crops, especially in Maharashtra and also in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The problem became grave as the insect attack came at a time when the crop was maturing and almost ready for its first-flush pickings. It got aggravated further by unseasonal rains at that point.
This impacted the farmers adversely, as this time around, they had planted a record 42 lakh-plus hectares under cotton, encouraged by the previous year’s remunerative realisations. A slump in overall productions is also being speculated due to the pink bollworm attacks. However, this is not a situation that cannot be retrieved. The President of the South Asia Biotechnology Centre, New Delhi, C D Mayee, explains the reasons for the pink bollworm attack, in an article written for The Indian Express.
He suggests that the major cause of bollworm attack is the absence of crop rotation. Continuous planting of cotton year after year encourages breeding of the pest. He writes that it is important to understand that PBW exclusively feed on cotton and without cultivating non-Bt cotton as refugia, PBW is bound to develop resistance to Bt toxins over time.
Here are the methods suggested by C D Mayee to avoid the PBW attack:
1. All fields must be given two deep ploughings in the coming summer, so as to destroy all crop residues and obtain the advantages of natural soil solarisation.
2. Sowing any pre-monsoon crop should be avoided.
3. The application of insecticides and Trichogramma or Bracon biocontrol agents could be initiated ‘once the economic threshold level (ETL) of around 24 moths per trap is observed’.
4. No growth-promoting chemicals or even urea should be applied during the crop’s grand growth phase to prevent greenness and succulence of foliage that attracts the pest.
5. Installation of ‘light/pheromone traps’ near cotton godowns, ginneries and market yards to attract post-season moths.