Invasion of Whitefly takes toll on coconut trees in Pune - Hindustan Times
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Invasion of Whitefly takes toll on coconut trees in Pune

ByGayatri Vajpeyee
Jun 27, 2023 05:10 AM IST

While the impact of the insect is not yet palpable, it could soon escalate as the pest spreads at a fast clip according to agricultural experts

Recently, ‘Rugose Spiralling Whitefly’ – an invasive insect which attacks palms, coconut and banana trees among others – has been spotted in Pune city. The pest not only affects the productivity of coconut trees, it also impacts the nutritional value of the fruit.

Rugose Spiralling Whitefly has been identified on coconut trees at Prabhat Road, the interiors of Tilak Road and other areas of the city with dense vegetation. (HT PHOTO)
Rugose Spiralling Whitefly has been identified on coconut trees at Prabhat Road, the interiors of Tilak Road and other areas of the city with dense vegetation. (HT PHOTO)

Researchers from the Agriculture College of Pune have undertaken a study to assess the impact of this insect on coconut trees in the city. Dr G R Lolage, head of the department of Agriculture Entomology, Agriculture College of Pune, said, “Since the last two to four months, this insect has been seen on coconut trees in Pune. We have also identified the pest on a coconut tree in our campus premises. There are several other areas in the city, where these insects have been reported by citizens.”

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Rugose Spiralling Whitefly has been identified on coconut trees at Prabhat Road, the interiors of Tilak Road and other areas of the city with dense vegetation. While the impact of the insect is not yet palpable, it could soon escalate as the pest spreads at a fast clip according to agricultural experts.

Ashok Ghorpade, head of the garden department, Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), said, “There are several coconut trees in Pune city. However, we haven’t received any complaints about the said insect from citizens.”

First reported in central America in 2004 and then in the United States of America (USA), Rugose Spiralling Whitefly quietly entered the southern states of India in 2016. So far, it has impacted coconut farming in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. The pest has now reached Maharashtra where farmers and citizens from the Konkan region, too, have spotted it, according to Lolage.

Satappa Kharbade, associate dean, Government College of Agriculture, Karad, said, “There are several areas in Maharashtra where coconut trees have been affected by this insect. The major impact is seen in the Konkan area due to humid weather suitable for its growth. There are biopesticides as well as chemical pesticides that can help prevent attacks from this insect.”

How the insect attacks

“The whitefly starts attacking the lower leaves of the coconut palm. It drains the sap from the underside of the leaf, producing a significant amount of honeydew which settles on the upper surface of the next lower leaf, leading to the growth of black, sooty mold. This is the secondary infection from the whitefly infestation,” Lolage explained.

Impact on Coconut tree

Rugose Spiralling Whitefly has a serious impact on the production of coconut. Not only does it reduce the size of coconut, it also decreases the coconut’s water content. Lolage refuted claims that the insect impacts the level of nutrients in coconut water.

Study to assess impact on coconut trees in Pune city

According to the Tree Census data shared by the PMC, there are over 70,000 coconut trees in Pune. However, it is unclear how many coconut trees in the city have been affected by the insect and to what extent. The Agriculture College of Pune, along with its students, has undertaken a study in this regard, Lolage said.

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