Pests ruin paddy on 89,000 ha

By Savvy Soumya Misra
Published: Wednesday 30 September 2009

-- DROUGHT conditions triggered a pest attack in 12 paddy growing districts of Orissa. The swarming caterpillars (Spodoptera mauritia) ruined crops on 89,000 hectares (ha) of the four million ha under paddy cultivation in the state.

Sambalpur district was the worst affected; paddy crops on nearly 33,000 ha were destroyed by the pest, called leda poka in Orissa. In Malkangiri district, farms were also attacked by stem borer pests and bacterial leaf blight disease.

"This year June was dry. There were a few days of heavy rain in July and a prolonged drought after that. The drought suits the pests. The problem is pronounced in areas that do not get irrigation water," said Saroj Mohanty, an activist working with farmers in western Orissa.

Ashok Pradhan, a farmer in Sambalpur district who harvested 18.75 quintals of rice last year, said if there are no rains his yields would be nowhere near what he harvested last year. Only a part of the 7.3 ha he owns is irrigated. To help the farmers tide over the crisis, the government announced pesticide subsidies and spent Rs 1.44 crore on it. But farmers said the help is insufficient. "In some places only 10 litres of pesticide was given for the whole village and one sprayer allocated to one panchayat comprising 10-15 villages. The shortage will create more problems," said Jagannath Chatterjee of the nonprofit Living Farms. Balaram Bhoi, a 42- year-old farmer in Sambalpur district, consumed the pesticide he was to spray in his farms. A debt of Rs 35,000 drove him to suicide. Mohanty said there are reports of farmers migrating from neighbouring Jharsuguda district to Raipur in Chhattisgarh as their crops have been destroyed. "There is no work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme this time of the year, so more people are likely to migrate to cities," he said.

Officials said there were no reports of farmers' distress. They said the pest problem has been controlled in 70,000 ha and that remaining farmland where paddy crop was lost will be used to grow pulses and oilseeds. The extent of damage to paddy will be assessed after harvesting, they added.

"What we know is that farmers have availed of the subsidies and the problem is almost over," said Babaji Giri, additional director of state agriculture department

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