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Pest attack on cotton crop in Maharashtra worsens farm sector crisis

A type of pest has attacked crops across 8 lakh hectares of land, or 23%, in 20 districts in the state

mumbai Updated: Nov 30, 2017 11:43 IST
Surendra P Gangan
Surendra P Gangan
Hindustan Times
maharashtra farmers,cotton crop,pest attack
Maharashtra has 40 lakh hectares of land on which cotton crop is grown.(Photo used for representational purpose only)

Farmers in suicide-hit districts of Vidarbha and Marathwada regions of Maharashtra are staring at huge losses owing to a pest (pink bollworm) attack on the cotton crop, across at least eight lakh hectares of land in 20 districts. This is expected to result in a loss of around 1-crore-quintal of crop worth Rs7,500 crore.

While the government has completed the primary survey of the fields and concluded that the crops on 23% are affected, the agriculture department says it will recover losses from the seed companies that had promised the crop won’t be affected by pests.

Maharashtra has 40 lakh hectares – which is 35% of the total cultivable area in state – under cotton crop. A report prepared by the agriculture commissioner has estimated the loss of crop to be on around 8 lakh hectares, or 23%.

After an uproar by the farmers, the state is now in the process of doing panchnamas for the loss. The government says the loss varies for each district, and it would be inaccurate to say that the entire crop has been lost. Experts and farmers, however, claimed that crop on more than 10 lakh hectares of land is lost. They also fear the situation has worsened the crisis in the farm sector, which has already witnessed several farmer suicides.

“This time the total estimated production was about 4 crore quintal against last year’s production of 3 crore quintal. It will now drop to 3 crore quintal,” said Vijay Jawandhia, farm expert and leader of Shetkari Sanghatana. “The area under cultivation of cotton had increased by 25%. The current market rate of cotton per quintal is Rs4,600, and so the loss will be Rs4,600 crore. The rates of the produce per quintal have fallen by Rs1,000, leading to a further loss of Rs3,000 crore. This means the loss of the farmers is more than Rs7,500 crore.”

READ: A cotton crisis is looming large in Maharashtra

More than 96% farmers use BT cotton seeds, which were supposed to be averse to the attack of pink bollworm when the technology was first introduced a decade ago. Experts said it was now time to switch to indigenously developed seeds to avoid further loss.

Agriculture minister Pandurang Fundkar said the government has directed agricultural universities to develop its own cotton seed variety. He said the universities have almost succeeded in developing a variety, and from next year, the government will be position to provide it to the farmers. Experts, however, said the government would not be able to produce the variety in the quantity required in state.

“The Maharashtra Cotton Seed Act 2009 has the provision of recovering the loss from the seed companies if the BT cotton variety fails to resist the pest attack. We will recover the loss after determining the share of the failure due to seeds,” said Bijay Kumar, principal secretary, agriculture department.

The state government had fixed the recovery of Rs38 lakh and Rs1 crore from two seeds companies owing to the loss of crop after the pest attack in the past two years. The government has not been able to recover the compensation as one of the companies has moved court, challenging the government order. “The seed companies find loopholes in the rules and legal provisions to not pay compensation. They hold farmers responsible for not complying with rules,” an official from the agriculture department admitted.

Kishor Tiwari, president of state government’s Sheti Swavlamban Mission, said the loss is owing to the failure of the government’s policies. “We had written to the state and Central governments about the potential attack of the pest in the month of July, but no action was taken. Not only the standing crop is under attack, but even cotton ready for spinning is being denied by the ginning mills due to the fear of the infestation. This will lead to more loss to the farmers,” he said.

First Published: Nov 30, 2017 11:43 IST