Whitefly -- this tiny insect, has ravaged the standing Bt cotton crop in Punjab/Haryana.
Causing extensive damage to the standing crop in the cotton belt of Punjab and Haryana, a tiny insect – whitefly -- is on a rampage. Such is the extensive damage, exceeding 50 per cent in the Abohar-Muktsar belt, that many farmers have uproot the badly damaged crop in thousands of acres, and at least one farmer in Bathinda district is reported to have committed suicide after seeing the damage to his standing cotton crop in two acres.
Agriculture scientists have been at pains to explain that the insect attack went virulent because farmers did not spray the crop with the recommended pesticides, and neither did they follow the right instructions. Blaming farmers from spraying the plants with tractor-loaded sprays they now suggest that sprays should be from root upwards, which means making it too difficult for farmers to spray pesticides. While Dr Mangal Singh Sandhu, Director of Agriculture, Punjab, says that the whitefly had intruded into Punjab from Pakistan, the Punjab Pesticides and Fertilisers Association has accused the government for purchasing and subsidizing a wrong kind of pesticides that failed to control the pest.
While such claims and counter-claims are being traded openly, and all efforts are aimed at defending the efforts of agriculture scientists as well as the state agriculture departments, let’s draw attention to a number of villages – scattered in Punjab and Haryana – which escaped whitefly attack. These are the villages which did not use any chemical pesticides – irrespective of the brand -- to control cotton pests. These villages stand like an oasis in a heavily polluted chemical desert. Perhaps the only lesson to control any future attack of whitefly (or for that matter bollworm and mealy bug attack on cotton) lies in non-pesticides management.
Farmers in Nidana and Lalit Khera, two tiny and non-descript 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.
Farmers in 70 acres in Sirsa, 20 acres in Bhiwani, 10 acre in Rohtak district of Haryana, as well as cotton farmers in 62 acres in Mansa district and some farmers in Bathinda district in Punjab are following the non-pesticides management techniques perfected by the Mahila Keet Paathshala in Nidana. The National Centre for Integrated Pest Management in New Delhi has examined this alternate method of farming and endorsed it. A three-member jury, headed by Justice (Retd) S N Aggarwal, had submitted a report in February, on the effectiveness of the Nidana model and urged on the immediate need to disseminate it widely.
The Nidana non-pesticides management system was perfected by late Surender Dalal, an agriculture development officer with Haryana agriculture department. He had trained nearly 150 farmers, mostly women, in developing the unique skill of identifying insects and using these insects in pest management.
Although the whitefly is a blessing for the pesticides industry, semi-illiterate and illiterate women farmers in Nidana know how easy it is to take care of this pest. The whiteflies nymphs can be found on the underside of the leaves where they stay put and survive by sucking the sap from the leaves. Their excretions fall on the leaves below, and since its urine contains a lot of sugar, the leaves below attract fungus and turn black. The village women know this and have identified two natural predators which in their local dialect are called ino and iro.
The female of iro and ino species normally search for whitefly colonies to lay their eggs. Ino and Iro lay their eggs in the stomach of the whitefly, one egg per insect. These eggs grow into larvae and turn into grubs by getting their nutrition from the whitefly. When they turn into moths, they too lay their eggs in the belly of whiteflies. Each predator laying 100 eggs which means eventually killing 100 whiteflies. For these village women, whitefly is a vegetarian insect which feeds on the leaves. Iro and Ino are non-vegetarian insects since they feed on the bad pests. This is the classification they follow. I have met women who can identify 110 non-vegetarian insects and also as many as 60 vegetarian insects. I wonder why agricultural scientists and farm officials can’t learn from these women farmers. Let’s not feel ashamed. #