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Farmers Pushed to Suicide as New Thrips Species Destroys Chilli Crops in 6 States

Farmers in the Warangal district's Jairam Thanda village say that the black-colored, pinhead-sized bug has wrecked the village's entire 20-hectare chili crop.

Binita Kumari
Ravindra was relying on this year's harvest to repay his loan of over Rs 20 lakh, according to his brother Bhaskar Rao. He committed suicide on December 15th.
Ravindra was relying on this year's harvest to repay his loan of over Rs 20 lakh, according to his brother Bhaskar Rao. He committed suicide on December 15th.

Chilli farmers in Telangana's Bhopalapalli district's Subakkapalli village are experiencing their worst nightmare. In just a few months, a new insect known as black thrips (Thrips parvispinus) has destroyed nearly 40 hectares of standing crops.

The first signs of the attack were noticed in Sidduri Ravindra Rao's farm in the first week of December last year. He upped the frequency of pesticide spraying from the recommended two times to three times a week, but his 0.8-hectare farm's whole crop died within a week.

Ravindra was relying on this year's harvest to repay his loan of over Rs 20 lakh, according to his brother Bhaskar Rao. He committed suicide on December 15th.

"First, unexpectedly heavy rains destroyed our crops. We lost it to pest attacks this season," he explained.

Farmers in the Warangal district's Jairam Thanda village tell similar tales. The black-colored, pinhead-sized bug has wrecked the village's entire 20-hectare chilli crop. When Banath Venkamma, a village chilli farmer, first noticed the pest on his 0.4-ha field, he visited the local agriculture extension office, which advised him to keep using the existing insecticides.

"I tried at least six insecticides, but none of them worked." 70 percent of my crop was completely lost, while the rest was partially spoiled. "Normally, the chillies we grow are 7 to 10 centimetres long, but this time they are only around 5 centimetres long," she explained.

T parvispinusis, a sucking pest of the thrips family, is an invasive species from Southeast Asia that has been found in countries like Australia, Thailand, and Greece.

It causes more harm than S dorsalis, an Indian thrips pest. T parvispinusis eliminates any chance of the crop growing by attacking the flowers rather than just the leaves. In 2017, the insect was first discovered in India, destroying papaya fields in Bengaluru, Karnataka.

"This is the first time it has wreaked such havoc across the country." V Sridhar, principal scientist at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research-Indian Institute of Horticultural Research in Bengaluru, said, "Its population has expanded by several folds in the last year." He is part of a team of scientists formed by the Centre to investigate the insect infestation and potential control options.

According to information obtained by the team, the pest has caused widespread losses in hundreds of communities in 34 contagious districts in six states since October 2021:

Telangana

Andhra Pradesh

Maharashtra

Karnataka

Tamil Nadu

Chhattisgarh

They've also heard reports of similar attacks in Gujarat. However, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have been impacted the worst, with at least 0.36 million hectares — approximately three times the size of Delhi — damaged. So far, no official data have been given by the remaining states.

T parvispinusis is also polyphagous, meaning it can spread to different plants. Between October and December 2021, experts from the Central team visited farms in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka and discovered the pest in sweet pepper, brinjal, black gramme, pigeon pea, watermelon, cucumber, bottle gourd, mango, and cotton, among other crops.

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