Pesticides overkill in Punjab killing farm-friendly insects
Amrik Singh, 46, a Bathinda-based farmer, was in despair after the entire cotton crop on his 3-acre land was destroyed by whitefly in 2017. He then decided not to sow cotton anymore and switched to cultivate other crops, such as paddy.
Amrik wasn’t the only one. Hundreds of other farmers in Punjab bore the brunt of the pest attack. Earlier in 2015, the whitefly attack on cotton fields destroyed over 70 per cent of the standing cotton crop.
The increasing frequency of pest attacks on the state’s farmlands, forced the state government to deliberate over the issue. Experts and agricultural scientists have now brought the focus on beneficial insects, whose population has substantially eroded over the past years owing to indiscriminate use of pesticides and chemicals by farmers in the state.
Joint director, state agriculture department, Dr Sukhdev Singh said excessive use of chemicals on farm lands was also killing agriculture-friendly insects that help control population of pests. He attributed the rise of whitefly attacks to the decline in population of such friendly insects. Whitefly sucks the sap from leaves, causing poor photosynthesis, and triggers leaf curl virus disease.
Alarmed by the situation, the state government formed a contingency plan under which farmers were advised to not use chemicals during the first 60 days of crop sowing.
Assistant plant protection officer at Jalandhar’s central integrated pest management centre, BD Sharma, said indiscriminate use of pesticides had depleted the population of friendly insects, including ladybugs, spiders and chrysoperla. “After sustained efforts, the population of beneficial insects is now improving in fields of Punjab,” he added.
The area under cotton cultivation in the state was 5.11 lakh hectares in 2009-10. It declined to 3.39 lakh hectares in 2015-16 and further to 2.57 lakh hectares in 2016-17, according to the state government. This was the time when whitefly attack on the crop sent alarm bells ringing among the farming community.
Amrik Singh, a farmer of Malwa, which is known for its cotton crop, said the minimum support price (MSP) of paddy and the low risk of pest attacks has aided his shift from cotton to paddy.
Long-term use of pesticides has also made an impact on the fertility of the soil in Punjab and also on the micro-organisms helpful in agriculture.
The Punjab Agricultural University has been conducting seminars and lectures on the importance of beneficial insects in agriculture for farmers from far off areas of the state. Recently, the department of entomology in association with Indian council of agricultural research held a seminar in which techniques of integrated pest management—an approach to sustainably manage insects—were explained.