Author: Mohammad Hussain Khan
As cotton farmers in Sindh begin crop picking, they have a reason to worry: pests like mealybug, thrips and pink bollworm have started attacking patches of their farmland.
In lower Sindh, where cotton is sown early, picking has already begun and will be in full swing soon. According to the agricultural department`s estimates, this year cotton was sowed on 575,113 hectares, against the targeted 650,000 hectares. Last year, cotton was cultivated on 584,568 hectares.
Growers in Umerkot, Matiari and other areas claim itis mainly thrips and pink bollworm that is affecting the crop. Research officials estimate 30 per cent of the total yield in Mirpurkhas, Umerkot and Sanghar to be currently under multiple pest attacks of mealybug and pink bollworm. These are main cotton producing areas and around 50 per cent of Sindh`s cotton production comes from these districts. Mealybug and bollworm attacks have been reported in other districts as well, but on a lesser scale.
Research officials predict that situation could worsen if the attacks are not controlled by pesticide sprays, particularly if it rains heavily next month, as forecasted.
`Rains can augment the crisis,` remarks an official adding that farmers should spray pesticides on the affectedportion of field and not the entire crop. Cotton growers, however, believe that sprays alone will not help them overcome the situation.
Pink bollworm, for example, penetrates into the boll, making spray ineffective. The bollworms usually attacks the crop around September, but this year it was reported far earlier. When the crop is under the bollworm attack it makes picking difficult. According to Talpur, the pest makes boll opening difficult, prompting labourers to spend more time in picking and eventually they charge more money from farmers.
Progressive farmers, like Mir Amanullah Talpur from Umerkot, mention a chemical pheromone that breaks the lifecycle and mating process of pest, and thus, help control attacks. However, it is not available in the market.
According to growers, only government can ensure its availability and they showed willingness to purchase it at the market price.
Grower Haji Nadeem Shah adds that cotton crop is also facing severe wilting and reddening due to jassid, a sap-sucking homopterous insect. He attributes this to multiple factors such as use of unknown varieties of seed, the crop being water stressed and higher temperatures.
Even though, this occurs every season, this time round it appears to be much worse. When reddening and wilting in crop begins, it affects fruit and flower setting.
Director General Agriculture Extension Hidayatullah Chajjro, however, argues that only `patches of fields` are under pest attacks. He insists that growers are spraying their crop as advised and that the initial field visits reports show that only 15 to 20 plants are affected in an acre which is neither dangerous, nor have caused major damage yet.
Similarly, a group of agricultural extension officials believe that these pests are a regular occurrence every year, with attacks within threshold level. They cite water shortage and hot and humid conditions that help develop sucking complex syndrome in the crop.
Growers, on the other hand, insist that thrips attacks are not being controlled. They fear that if the situation persists, the entire fields would be badly hit by the pest and they would get lower yields. Farmers admit that while mealybug attacks were curbed to a considerable extent in the recent past, they seem to have increased in the last couple of years.