Oct 9, 2009

Hold former Agriculture Secretary accountable for the import of alien invasive weed species

My worst fears have now been established. Seven alien invasive weed species that came along with imported wheat from the United States in 2006-07 have taken roots in several parts of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Karnataka. India will now be spending billions of dollars to combat these alien invasive species.

These seven weeds are in addition to the five weed species that were earlier identified in the crop fields. These alien weed species were not known to have existed in India, and have come along with the imported wheat grain.

I remember at the time of the import, I had warned: The American wheat comes with 21 alien weeds which are not known to exist in India. As per the weed risk analysis done by the Ministry of Agriculture, all these weeds are of quarantine importance and carry high risk. More worrying is the presence of two weeds Bromus rigidus and Bromus scealinus -- better known as foxtail wheat, which is similar in appearance to wheat and therefore difficult to identify. The Ministry of Food and Agriculture had then denied that there was any threat of weeds from imported wheat.

In fact, the then Agriculture Secretary Radha Singh had actually stymied all such objections, and had approved the imports. It is therefore high time to hold Radha Singh accountable for the mishap, even though she has since retired. We cannot allow people in decision making positions to get away for such callous decisions that not only have terrible socio-economic implications but also pose a threat to country's food security.

Parliamentarians should demand an investigations into the entire wheat import imbroglio and hold those bureaucrats and scientists responsible who were party to the deal. These people should receive strict punishment that should become a lesson for others in future.

I feel sad that the two species that I had listed time and again that would pose a serious threat to country's food security -- Bromus secalinus and Bromus rigidus -- have actually entered India, and established in the crop fields. Better known as foxtail wheat, these species are similar in appearance to wheat and therefore difficult to identify. Already farmers have been struggling for decades to control weeds that have entered India along with imported wheat assignments from the US and Australia in the past.

Here is my article on the wheat import scandal. I suggest you take a look at this analysis before you go through the news report from Jabalpur about the alien weed species that have sneaked into India. This will enable you to put the entire issue in right perspective. The article Weeding out Wheat  (June 19, 2007) is available at: http://www.indiatogether.org/2007/jun/dsh-wheatrow.htm

And here is the news report from the pages of Hindustan Times

Alien weeds in imported wheat

Jabalpur: The Directorate of Weed Science Research, Jabalpur has detected seven more alien weeds species in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharshtra where wheat grains imported in 2006-07 was distributed under PDS.

The directorate has launched a surveillance program to identify areas and study impact of alien weeds were identified in imported grains.

Over 62 lakh metric tonnes of imported wheat grains was supplied under PDS in Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Orrisa.

Seven news alien weeds detected from imported wheat grains are echnochloa cruspavonis. heliabthus californicus, bromus secalinus, bromus rigidus, cenchurea solsitialis, cenchurea maculosa and chicorium pumilum in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka.

Earlier identified five alien weeds are Ambrosia trifida, Cenchrus tribuloides, Cynoglossum officinale, solanum carolinense and Viola arvensis are mainly found in imported wheat grains during this period.

The quarantine norms fixed by the union government for import of wheat is 100 seeds of weeds per 200 kilogram is permissible for import. Directorate of weed science Research consultant for weed surveillance programmes Dr JP Tiwari told HT that various centers are functioning across the states where imported wheat grains was supplied.

He said the centers in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka has reported of seven new alien weed species detected in imported wheat grains. He said the directorate has requested the center to give global positioning systems hand sets to surveillance inspectors deputed in centers to speed up identification work.

He said the alien seeds spread when the people remove unwanted particles from imported wheat grains and throw waste in garbage, compost pit or any other place from where it reaches to fields, forest and fallow lands.

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