Punjab crop loss spurs debate on pesticide use

Published: Sunday 30 September 2007

around 25 per cent of the cotton crops stand damaged in Punjab because of the pest 'mealy bug' or woolly aphids. The worst affected are the areas under bt cotton. Cotton was cultivated in 570,000 hectares in 2006, and this year it has been cultivated in 648,000 hectares. Production however has fallen from 2.7 million bales in 2006 to 2.2 million bales this year in the state. Mansa, Bhatinda, Mukhtsar and Ferozepur districts are the worst hit. Maharashtra has also reported such pest attacks.

"High use of pesticides and bt cotton has led to the present situation. The inherent quality of hybrids used and monoculture is responsible for the outbreak," says G V Ramanjaneyulu, executive director, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad.But A K Dhawan, cotton expert at the Punjab Agriculture University, insists the pest attack has nothing to do with bt cotton. "There have been instances of the bug attack in Pakistan as well and there are no cases of bt cotton there," he said. Dhawan recommends increased use of pesticides as a solution to the pest attack. "Prosenofos, acephate, chloropyrifos and thiodicarbs were withdrawn after the introduction of bt cotton. These need to used again because they can counter the pest. No organic method can help fight the mealy bug attack," he says.

However, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture officials do not buy the argument and say that pesticides won't help. Non-pesticidal management has been successful in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. It prevents pests from reaching damaging proportions and even if it does green sprays (concoctions of various plant material or animal dung and urine-fresh or fermented) work effectively. In case of mealy bug, ordinary soap solution or cow urine solution works well, the officials say.

But farmers in Punjab have fallen into the trap. According to reports, companies have sold pesticides worth Rs 500 crore in the past two months.

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