Frequency of attacks, increased due to climate change, is severely affecting the yield and meteorically escalating production costs
An increase in crop-invading pests has started to imperil the livelihoods and economic conditions of farmers in Rajasthan. A visit by Down To Earth to the Alwar district of Rajasthan revealed that farmers here faced repeated pest attacks for the past four years.
The frequency of attacks increased, severely affecting the yield and meteorically escalating production costs.
Jeewat Meena, a farmer from Mandapur village of Naugaon Tehsil, said pest attacks had forced him to apply heavy pesticides on his crops.
“There was no fear of pests in our area about a decade ago. However, pest attacks and the damages caused by them increased over the years. It has worsened further over the past three years,” he said.
Meena said he started using pesticides to prevent the attacks. “During initial years, the pest control measures were employed once or twice a year, now it has increased to three sprays for a crop,” he said.
He added that crops like cucumber, which usually gets infested by white flies, require pesticide sprays every 15 days.
“The input cost has increased multifold. I spend around Rs 12,000 per acre for my cotton farm to protect them from pink bollworm.” This is in addition to the seeds, chemical fertiliser, mulching and other inputs needed for growing them, he added.
Climate change plays an influential role in altering insect pests in multiple ways, according to a 2021 research. The long-term shifts in temperature and weather patterns can lead to expansion of the geographic area, increased survival period and disturbed synchronisation between plants and pests.
This can even deteriorate the efficacy of biological pest control methods.
Such changes become a major driving force for the spread of the pest population and put crops at serious risk of economic loss, eventually threatening human food security, the study pointed out.
Man Singh, who owns about 12 acres of farmland in the same area, said the damage has intensified in recent years.
“Initially, the cases were sporadic and isolated incidents were reported in some parts of the village or a part of the farm. But for the past three-four years, the frequency and intensity has increased, causing heavy damage,” he said.
In some cases, a portion of crops manages to survive. But it withers off later as the plant is weakened to such an extent, he added.
Warming in winter due to climate change has increased groundwater usage, the farmer said.
“The water table has already gone down in February. The lack of moisture due to the drop in water table has caused termites to flourish and infest the roots of the jowar, mustard and other vegetable crops,” he added.
Another farmer said much of the production cost is now dedicated to protecting and saving the crops during the harvest period.
Kishan Parmar, from Beejwa village, told DTE:
My four acres of organic wheat, black wheat and mustard crops experience multiple pest attacks during the season, which requires heavy application of pesticides.
“It has increased the input cost by 20 per cent. But I also have to be cautious about not spending a fortune to protect the crops and not turn them into toxic food for consumers,” he added.
Parmar said balancing the use of pesticides and protecting plants to obtain sufficient yield has become walking on a tightrope.
He said his debts are piling up over the years. “I am not able to recover the production cost that is causing debts to increase. My profits have zeroed,” he added.
Pest attacks induced by climate change directly affect farmers, said PR Shashank, a scientist at the Division of Entomology, Indian Agricultural Research Institute.
“The production cost of the crop increases. Secondly, the farmers damages increases as the yield reduces,” he said.
Shashank said marginal farmers, who are the majority in India, are most vulnerable to climate change.
“Farmers with small landholdings are likely to be affected the most as their entire crop or potential harvest can wipe away with a single or multiple pest attacks,” he added.
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