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Project Jagruthi: Farmers learn to protect cotton crops from Pink Bollworm in Telangana

A ground report from Telangana's cotton fields highlights the challenges farmers face when dealing with the pink bollworm, as well as elaborates on the farmer awareness programmes to combat this devastating pest attack
Project Jagruthi: Farmers learn to protect cotton crops from Pink Bollworm in Telangana
Project Jagruthi: Farmers learn to protect cotton crop from Pink Bollworm in Telangana (In picture: LDC India representatives Sumeet Mittal (in the middle) and Gangadhara S (left backside) along with cotton farmers in Damera village, Telangana.)

Around 30 cotton-growing farmers gathered near Damera village in Telangana’s Hanamkoda district to assess the current state of their blossoming cotton crop in their fields. Mohan Rao, Dikshapati, Sampat, Yogeshwaran, Nagarajan, Radheshayam, Kumar Swamy, D Chinnap Reddy, G. Balashiva Reddy, Madaram Kankiya, Ganga, Velangan Reddy, Ravindra Reddy, Batni Raju and Batthi Reddy were cotton farmers who owned one to 30 acres of farmland. Their yield increased significantly due to Bt-1 and 2, introduced two decades ago, and they were able to obtain a reasonable price, above the minimum support price (MSP), in the market. However, pests are now their main cause of concern, particularly the Pink Bollworm (PBW), an insect known for the devastation it creates in cotton crops. Cotton farmers in this area are trying hard to overcome the challenge.

Farmers with 14 to 30-acre cotton fields came from the nearby Narmeta village in the Jangaon district. Velangal Reddy, a cotton grower from the village with 30 acres of land, was also concerned about the Pink Bollworm attack. G Bala Subha Reddy and D Chimapeddi, both villagers with 14-acre cotton fields, recalled previous years when their fields were heavily attacked by Pink Bollworm and they were helpless and did not know how to protect their crops from the insect. A visit to Telangana’s cotton fields explains not only the main pain points of the growers but also the interventions that are yielding positive results in terms of preventing pest attacks.

Cotton crops were blooming in agricultural fields around Damera and other villages in the region, and growers believe that this season will fetch them a higher price with a higher yield than in previous years. The intervention of Project Jagruthi, launched by Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC), a French company working in the field of agriculture and food, reduced pest threats to cotton crops.

It is claimed that Bt-cotton transformed the way India farms cotton. Cotton growers in Damera and Narmeta say they are still dealing with pests such as bollworm. LDC’s interventions, such as awareness workshops and the distribution of pheromone traps, have greatly aided them, but there is clearly a need for new cotton seed technology.

Pink bollworm affected cotton with the healthy ones
Pink bollworm-affected cotton with the healthy ones

Velangal Reddy, an educated cotton grower from Narmeta village who cultivates cotton on 30 acres, appeared dissatisfied with India’s approach to GM technologies. “We are using all GM edible oils and other things imported from outside, Bt-cotton growing farmers also use the cotton seed for edible oil production, simply they consume Bt-cotton oil, but there is a strong lobby against it here in India,” he says. “The government should provide us with newer technologies on par with the United States and other developed countries. Like Bt-1 and Bt-2 introduced to tackle the challenge of American Bollworm in cotton crops, there’s a need for Bt-3 cotton seeds to handle Pink Bollworm. LDC’s Project Jagruthi has been extremely beneficial in terms of pink bollworm prevention, but the point is that we require newer seed technologies.”

Pink bollworm is now the primary concern, causing massive damage to India’s cotton crop. Following the outbreak of the pink bollworm in 2021, LDC launched ‘Project Jagruthi’ for cotton growers in India.

Highlighting the interventions brought under Project Jagruthi, Sumeet Mittal, Cotton Platform Head-India, LDC said, “Through workshops, we have trained over 7,500 farmers in over 30 villages across Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Telangana, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh. In addition, we have distributed over 40,000 pheromone traps to the farmers so far. We distributed 17,000 traps in the northern states, while 23,000 traps were distributed to cotton growers in Central and South India, including Telangana. We intend to increase this even more in the coming season. We held an awareness camp in Damera and distributed eight traps per acre. The project benefited nearly 250 farmers, as awareness increased the yield. Cotton growers from 17 villages in the region are now lining up for traps. Facing the devastations caused by PBW, these farmers are ready to buy pheromone traps if available in the market.”

Cotton growers in the village admitted that increased awareness and pheromone traps have significantly increased per acre yield. Cotton cultivator Mergu Rajkumaraya says the cost of cultivation is rising due to rising pesticide, fertiliser, and labour costs, which are exacerbated by pink bollworm.

Each cotton-growing state, including Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Punjab and Karnataka, has been affected by pink bollworm, which has significantly reduced yield.

Elaborating on the project, Gangadhara S, Senior Manager- Research, LDC, said, “The threat was evident in Telangana during the 2016-17 season. Pink bollworm damages crops by five per cent if it attacks late, but it can cause 30-40 per cent damage if it attacks early. Pink bollworm has three stages: Lieur, Mouths, and the final stage, a worm, which causes loss. We use pheromone traps to try to prevent male and female mouths from mating. Another advantage of the trap is that it indicates the severity of the pink bollworm attack, allowing us to plan the amount of pesticides to be used in the field.”

According to Gangadhara, mass trapping is an effective way to overcome the challenge of pest attack, and all growers require pheromone traps for this. “In addition to farmer awareness workshops, LDC is working hard to get a large number of traps to as many cotton growers in Telangana as possible,” he adds.

Extended mechanism to tackle Pink Bollworm

Other experiments are being conducted in addition to prevention. In the early stages of testing, the High-Density Planting System (HDPS) in cotton has yielded promising results. Hyderabad-based, Professor Jayshankar Telangana State Agriculture University (PJTSAU) conducts extensive research on HDPS and trains farmers with the technology.

Dr. B Anil Kumar, Senior Scientist-Extension Services at PJTSAU, is in charge of training and awareness camps in 11 Telangana districts. He travels from one village to another every day to train farmers on the best farming techniques.

He asserts that cotton crops in Telangana have been wracked by pink bollworm for the past five years. “The Telangana government has been providing cotton farmers with subsidies of Rs 4,000 per acre as well as new technologies. Cotton growers, for example, benefit from pneumatic cotton seed planters. “With this pneumatic cotton seed planter, a farmer can sow one acre of farmland with HDPS in only half an hour,” says Dr. Anil Kumar, who also strongly advises Telangana farmers to practice crop rotation such as maize in January, to avoid problems like pink bollworm.

There is a need to develop other advanced technology-enabled pest-resistant seeds so that cotton farmers across India can benefit from them. If LDC is unable to cover all of the farmers, they must follow the training tips and obtain pheromone traps from the markets.

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