Chilli farmers in Subakkapalli village in Telangana, Bhopalapalli district are living their worst nightmare. A new pest, black thrips (Thrips parvispinus), destroyed more than 40 hectares (ha) of standing crops in a few months.
At Sidduri Ravindra Rao’s farm, the first signs of the attack were reported in the first week of December last year. He increased the frequency of pesticide spraying to three times a week from the recommended twice, but the entire crop from his 0.8 hectare farm perished within a week.
On December 15, he committed suicide. His brother Bhaskar Rao said Down to earth that Ravindra was relying on this year’s proceeds to repay his loan of over Rs 20 lakh. “First of all, heavy untimely rains destroyed our crops. This season we lost it to pest attacks,” he said.
Farmers in Jairam Thanda village in Warangal district also tell similar stories. The black-colored, pinhead-sized pest has ruined the entire village’s 20 ha chilli plant.
Banath Venkamma, a chilli farmer in the village, says when he first saw the pest on his 0.4ha farm, he contacted the local agricultural extension office, who recommended continuing with the pesticides. existing.
“I used at least six different pesticides, but nothing worked. The pest completely destroyed 70% of my crop and partially destroyed the rest. Usually the peppers we grow are 7 to 10 centimeters long, but this time they are only 5 cm,” she said.
T parvispinusis, a member of the thrips group of sucking pests, is an invasive species from Southeast Asia that has been documented in different countries including Australia, Thailand and Greece.
It causes more damage than S dorsalis, the thrips pest native to India. By attacking the flowers and not just the leaves, T parvispinusis takes away all hope of seeing the crop grow. The pest was first reported in India in 2017 when it destroyed papaya farms in Bengaluru, Karnataka.
“This is the first time it has caused such large-scale destruction in the country. Over the past year, its population has increased several fold,” said V Sridhar, a senior scientist at the Indian Council of Conservation. Agricultural Research-Indian Horticultural Research Institute in Bengaluru He is part of the team of scientists appointed by the Center to research the attack of pests and its possible management solutions.
According to information received by the team, since October 2021, the pest has caused widespread losses in hundreds of villages across 34 contagious districts in six states:
- Andhra Pradesh
- Tamil Nadu
They also received reports of similar attacks in Gujarat. Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are the hardest hit, however, where at least 0.36 million hectares – about three times the size of Delhi – have been destroyed. The remaining states have yet to release official figures.
T parvispinusis is also polyphagous, meaning it spreads to other cultures. Core team scientists visited farms in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka between October and December 2021 and found the pest in capsicum, brinjal, black gram, pigeon pea, watermelon, cucumber, bottle gourd, mango and cotton, among others.
“It wasn’t on a large scale, but the presence was noted,” Sridhar said.
The increasing spread of the pest in India is of concern for two reasons.
First, the country is the largest producer, consumer and exporter of chillies in the world and has 40% of the world’s cultivated area.
Secondly, chilli cultivation requires huge investments ranging from Rs 2.5 to 3 lakh per ha.
In Telangana, most chilli growers pay an additional 20,000 to 25,000 rupees to take land on lease. This year, farmers say their investment in pesticides has also increased due to the attack. In such a situation, crop loss has pushed many farmers to the brink.
DTE during the last week of March, he visited six villages in four districts of Telangana and discovered several cases of farmer suicides. Although the state government has not released any figures, an investigation by Rythu Swarajya Vedika and Human Rights Forum, a Telangana-based non-profit organization, shows that more than 50 farmers have committed suicide in the districts of Warangal, Mahbubabad, Hanumakonda, Bhopalapalli, Khammam and Bhadradri Kothagudem.
In Subakkapalli village in Bhopalapalli, Bhaskar Rao blames the government for the death of his brother and other farmers. “Nobody came to talk to us or make us aware of the pest or how to deal with it. We were making our own guesses,” Bhaskar Rao said.
Telangana has yet to announce compensation for crop damage. The state does not have its own crop insurance scheme and has also opted out of the Centre’s Pradhan Mantri Bima Fasal Yojana.
The state government runs the cash support scheme, Rythu Bandhu, under which Rs 12,350 per hectare per season is transferred to farmers’ bank accounts ahead of the rabi and kharif seasons. Another scheme, Rythu Bima, promises Rs 5 lakh to families of farmers who have died by suicide.
But this is not enough. Hari Krishna of the Human Rights Forum says that by introducing the Rythu Bandhu and Rythu Bima schemes, the government has absolved itself of responsibility for crop losses. Moreover, only landed families benefit from the schemes; vulnerable landless farmers are simply not covered, he adds.
Although the state announces compensation packages during large-scale crop losses, Kiran Kumar Vissa of Rythu Swarajya Vedika says it rarely reaches people. “Farmers are still awaiting the compensation announced in January 2021 for crop losses caused by heavy rains,” Vissa alleged.
MV Madhusudhan, deputy director of the Horticulture Department of Telangana, agrees that the pest attack has drastically reduced the chili yield this year – from the usual 5-6 tonnes per ha to 2.5 tonnes or less.
Its effect can be seen at Warangal mandi, the second largest chilli market in Asia. In February and March 2022, the mandi received 27,514 tonnes of chillies, almost half of what it received in the two months of last year (52,106 tonnes).
“The pest attack and the hailstorm in January created a supply problem. There might be a severe shortage of red chillies in the coming months in the market,” said BV Rahul, Selection Secretary, Agricultural Commodity Market Committee, Warangal.
The price of the crop has already skyrocketed. Currently, the average mandi chilli price is Rs 1.8-2 lakh per ton, almost double the usual rate of Rs 1.1-1.3 lakh. “On March 30, a farmer received a record price of Rs 5.2 lakh per ton as there is severe shortage of good quality chillies this season,” Rahul said.
Farmers said the inflated price will do them no good as the yield is low. They are now worried about a similar attack in the next crop year.
On February 4, 2022, Union Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told Parliament that change in climatic conditions during the growing season could be responsible for the spread of T parvispinus.
Scientists agree that weather aberrations may have contributed to the pest’s spread. “Thrips generally thrive in hot, dry conditions, but this particular species, T parvispinusthrives in hot, humid conditions,” Sridhar said.
Warangal and neighboring districts received heavy rains in September, October and November 2021. During the southwest monsoon, the state received 40% more rain than usual.
During the second week of January this year, several parts of Telangana experienced hailstorms and heavy rains. Continuous swathes of crops further allowed the pest to spread rapidly. In Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka, chilli cultivation has increased by 30-35% in the last year.
The pest is also known to displace formerly established species from habitats. This was observed in Indonesia and is now also observed in India. This year it replaced S dorsalis. This could have happened due to the indiscriminate use of pesticides.
The farmers said DTE that unapproved pesticides are sold in stores, and since they are cheaper than approved ones, distressed farmers use them freely.
“As the replacement was observed this year only, we need to monitor the different species of pepper pests to understand if this is permanent or temporary,” Sridhar said.
He added that the pest should be tackled in an integrated way from the first sight: “Farmers should use blue-colored sticky traps and all farmers should use the same methods to keep pests away.”
A 2021 paper by scientists from the National Agricultural Insect Resources Bureau in Bangalore recommends destroying infected crop fields to stop the spread of the pest to new locations.
He added that constant monitoring, biopesticide-based microbial management practices, such as the use of neem oil, pongamia oil or soap solution in heavily infested sites, and l judicious use of chemical insecticides and fertilizers.
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