Pink Bollworm Epidemic Leaves Cotton Farmers in Despair

Recent news regarding the pink bollworm epidemic in the cotton growing belt has left the cotton growing belt of Maharashtra aghast and disappointed. The recent farmer deaths have been attributed to the illicit use of pesticides as a last ditch effort to save their crop from the pink bollworm attack. This leaves one thinking how, despite the use of Bt cotton and regular spraying of pesticides, how did it come to such a dire situation?

The pink bollworm is deadly because the attack is completely devoid of symptoms until the boll are ready for harvest. This Kharif season, farmers were left clueless as to why bolls had not started bursting by the time of harvest. Upon investigating further, it was found that entire field worth of bolls were completely infested with pink bollworms. Experts are of the opinion that the pink bollworm has adapted and grown resistant to the cry protein expressed in the Bt cotton.

All this only points to the fact that no matter how much chemical intervention in the form of pesticides takes place, there will always be a need for finding preventive measures to these problems. Benjamin Franklin once famously quoted, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In order to reduce the ‘fire fighting’ that needs to be done after the onset of a pest attack, a lot more importance should be given to finding preventive solutions to stop/reduce the onslaught of infections. Biopesticides typically are not as potent as chemical pesticides in the sense that they typically only work at a certain life stage of the pest in question. A big problem with this is usually the failure to identify the early stage or predict the onset of pest attacks. Using inappropriate biopesticides for certain diseases or getting the time wrong can result in complete failure.

To counter this, it should the prerogative of biopesticide production companies to educate the farmer regarding the potential of the biopesticide as well as its time and dosage of application. Apart from this, a holistic solution needs to be given to the farmer regarding what sort of biopesticide – pesticide combinations are safe to use (without reducing the potency of either). Not only will this reduce the unnecessary use of pesticides, it will maximize the impact of the biopesticides and pesticides applied. Regulatory norms often are found to impede the pace at which development of more potent and targeted biopesticides. A serious thought needs to be put as to how to counter this issue.

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