BT cotton’s whitefly problems in Punjab & Haryana: why is the M-word avoided?

10 Sep

With thanks to Eva Novotny for the lead to this news in GM Watch and to Devinder Sharma for some cheering news on the subject.

To date not one newspaper report has mentioned Monsanto, the manufacturer of this technology. An online search reveals that only a Global Research headline (article first published in July 2015), relating to farmer suicides, has done so, presumably braving litigation.

Ikhhlaq Aujla in the Times of India reports that genetically modified BT cotton varieties which offered resistance to American bollworm are under attack from whitefly in both Punjab and Haryana this season – areas which account for about 11-12% of country’s total cotton output. (Below left: whitefly on cotton in America)

The Tribune adds that the pest has come early this year: “The early onset of the infestation and its severity has left the farmers in distress,” said Gurjeet Singh Mann, a farmer in Kirpal Patti village of Sirsa and has crossed economic twhitefly cotton 2USAhreshold levels (ETL). Principal scientist at the Central Institute of Cotton Research, Dr Dalip Monga explains: “If the number of insects is eight to 10 per leaf, the attack is said to have crossed ETL. But in Sirsa, we have observed 15 to 20 insects per leaf at most places and even up to 30 to 40 insects per leaf on some other plants.”

Another Tribune report records that this blow comes after earlier losses in rice and wheat crops. Asked about the third consecutive shock suffered by farmers, Agriculture Commissioner Balwinder Singh Sidhu said, “It is an unfortunate situation. Obviously, the damage to the cotton crop will aggravate the crisis in the farm sector and hurt the farmers badly.”

Returning to the TOI report we read that farmers in many parts of Punjab and Haryana have uprooted cotton for other crops in recent days. Baljinder Singh Sidhu from Kotbhara village in Bathinda said, “Build-up to the pest was so sudden that it caught us unawares. Many farmers in my village have uprooted cotton since the damage to the crop was massive.”

An official from the Punjab agriculture department said, “We are organizing camps in villages and telling farmers to use recommended pesticides . . .” but in 2002, cotton farmers used so much pesticide against the whitefly that the chemical is believed to have affected the soil and groundwater. TOI reports that many believe this is the reason behind a large number of cancer cases detected among people in the cotton belt. (Below, unprotected spraying)

cotton spraying

Prof Ashok Dhawan, former head of the entomology, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, said, “The whitefly attack can lead to 30%-40% drop in average yield in the affected areas. Spraying pesticides is not the best solution. Farmers need to follow a composite plan. We need varieties that are resistant,” said Prof Dhawan.

TOI later reported that farmers have marched to the deputy commissioner’s office and submitted a memorandum demanding special survey for their crop destroyed by whitefly., ‘Sirsa deputy director of agriculture Babu Lal admitted the problem of pest attack and said about 25% of the cotton crop got affected by whitefly. He said, “Though arrival of cotton has not started in Sirsa, we will come to know about yield loss after the produces reaches the mandis.”

The Indian Express adds that agriculture experts at Muktsar, Bathinda and Fazilka believe the improper use of insecticides was the primary reason for the whitefly attack in the state, noting that all the farmers who had used an excess of urea had their crops affected. However when asked, experts said there is no scientific reason which can connect urea usage with white fly attack.

Stop press: received this morning from Delhi’s Devinder Sharma:

devinder sharma 3Farmers in Nidana and Lalit Khera, two tiny and nondescript villages in Jind district of Haryana, are oblivious of any threat to their cotton crop. In fact, while Haryana farmers are a worried lot, whitefly attack is non-existent in a cluster of 18 villages in the same district. They do not spray any chemical pesticides for several years now and have instead been using benign insects to control harmful pests. This year too, they allowed the natural predators of whitefly to proliferate, which in turn killed the whitefly. In other words, these farmers have learnt the art of maintaining insect equilibrium in such a manner that the benign insects take care of the pests by not allowing insect population to cross the threshold level. “We don’t have any problem from whitefly,” Ranvir Singh, a farmer, informed me.

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One Response to “BT cotton’s whitefly problems in Punjab & Haryana: why is the M-word avoided?”

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  1. Poland applies for GM opt-out as Conservatives’ leader calls Scotland’s GM-free good food policy ‘vote-chasing’ | Chemical Concern - October 18, 2015

    […] fails to mention that additional pesticide applications are needed in some GM crops as insects become resistant – and herbicides are needed in USA to kill the ‘superweeds’ that have developed resistance to […]

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