After fake currency and terror elements, symptoms of a deadly fungus for wheat is the latest menace to enter India through the Bengal-Bangladesh border.
Wheat on at least 1,000 hectare in two districts have already been affected by the wheat blast disease, that has triggered desperate measures from the Mamata Banerjee government with the agriculture department burning standing crops to contain the menace from spreading to the rest of the country.
In 2016, the fungus entered Asia for the first time, creating havoc in Bangladesh where crops of over 20,000 hectares in six districts had to be burnt. In Bengal it has already spread to Murshidabad and Nadia districts bordering Bangladesh forcing the government to sound a red alert.
“This is a serious issue and we are tackling it on war footing to prevent it from spreading. There are definite symptoms of wheat blast. Once infected, there is no way to ‘cure’ the affected crop. Therefore, the administration is burning the crops as soon as the symptoms appear. We have already identified the areas where the symptoms have appeared. We are awaiting laboratory reports for confirmation,” P K Majumder, advisor to chief minister Mamata Banerjee on agriculture, told HT.
“We are spraying on the wheat crops as a preventive measure in the areas where there are no symptoms,” Majumder added.
A central team of agriculture scientists have already visited the two districts and is closely working with their state counterparts.
“I don’t think it is wheat blasts. It has never happened in India. One first needs to confirm it,” said Gyanendra P Singh, director Indian Institute of Wheat & Barley Research Karnal .
“The fungus travelled from Bangladesh. The spores float in the area and it is difficult to contain. Cattle that stray into India from Bangladesh also act as the carriers. Proper compensation is being given to the farmers whose crops are being destroyed,” said Majumder.
To keep a tab on the situation, officials at the state secretariat are holding video conferences with district magistrates and agriculture department officials twice daily.
“Every year around Bengal farmers cultivate wheat on 5,000 hectares. This year Bengal was expected to have 12 lakh tonnes of wheat production. We planned to double our wheat production in the coming years,” added Majumder.
Sources stated that India’s production and export will be largely hampered on confirmation of wheat blast entering the country.
The fungus responsible for the wheat blast disease is known as Magnaporthe oryzae. The disease was first identified in 1985 in Brazil, and thereafter it spread to Bolivia and Paraguay.
In April 2016, it was first detected in Bangladesh. Central and state government cautioned farmers in Bengal and Assam to watch out for the disease spreading in this part of the border.
But in February end, this year symptoms started appear first in Jalangi block, Murshidabad bordering Bangladesh and subsequently in blocks of Nadia district.
In Murshidabad district, wheat blast has spread from Jalangi to Domkal, Raninagar-I, Nawda and Hariharpara blocks. So far it has affected wheat production in more than 509 hectares in the district.
Buddhadeb Dhar, deputy director of agriculture of Nadia district said, “The outbreak of the disease was first noticed at Jalangi block of Murshidabad. Thereafter, it spread very fast and on February 21 we noticed an outbreak in Nadia. So far wheat production in more than 500 hectares in Tehatta-II & II, Karimpur I & II and Chapra block has been affected.”
District administrations has already held meeting with BSF authorities to check entry of food grains from Bangladesh border.
According to international scientists, the consequences of a wider outbreak in South Asia could be devastating to a region of 300 mn malnourished people, whose inhabitants consume 100 million tonnes of wheat each year.
The Asian region produces 135 million tonnes of wheat every year. India is the second largest producer of wheat in the world with 90 million tonnes (mt).