The reports of extensive damage (ranging between 50 and 90 percent) caused by pests to the cotton crop in regions of Maharashtra have panicked not only growers and policymakers alike, but also the trade and input suppliers.
While the extent of damage caused by bollworm infestation continues to be a matter of concern by various stakeholders, there are clear attempts to avoid the core issue and shift the blame on to the seed companies. In the process, technology seeds have come under unjustified attack. This brings the role of the regulator and the policymakers into question.
The insects develop resistance to a chemical or technology in the natural process of evolution season after season over a period of time. It is not possible to stop the development of resistance, but it is possible to delay in the onset of resistance. For the purpose adequate stewardship of the technology is necessary.
Planting refuge seeds or allotting refuge area diverts the target insects and reduces the extent of insect attack on the main plant. It is also important to monitor the fields for any development of insect resistance. In the event of insect occurrence beyond the ‘economic threshold limit’, the protective action including prophylactic measures is called for.
It’s important to check the adequacy of expression of Bt protein in the seeds. If proper agronomic practices are followed and timely and scientific advisory is given to growers the problem can be substantially contained, if not eliminated. The role of the regulator and that of the State government becomes critical. Problems associated with growing cotton crop, especially in the Vidharba region of Maharashtra are well known.
In many parts of the country, the traditional ‘extension service’ has all but disappeared. There is hardly any awareness or education campaign to benefit farmers. Growers are left to fend for themselves and often they fall prey to disinformation.
Like, Maharashtra Gujarat also faced the instances of bollworm attack on the fibre crop. In Gujarat, all stakeholders worked together. With the assistance of research institutions and agricultural universities, the problem was controlled. It is necessary for everyone to learn lessons from the past and from the experience of others.
Maharashtra government has to stay focused on issues confronting the cotton sector and initiate timely and corrective action. The State has to be active in monitoring agricultural activities for any untoward development and continually evaluate outcomes.
It is best to stop blaming the technology, and start to put the house in order by addressing the structural issues of agriculture in general and agronomic problems associated with cotton cultivation in particular.