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Viral attack on cotton crop              
By Saleem Shaikh

Sindh’s standing cotton crop, which remained unaffected by the devastating floods, has now come under pest and viral attacks, which may result in huge production losses.

Mealy bug, leaf curl virus, army worm and red leaf (reddening) disease have assaulted the crop on thousands of acres in Naushero Feroz, Sanghar, Mirpurkhas, Badin and Umkerkot districts.

Some 50 per cent area under cotton is reckoned to have been destroyed by floods. The viral attacks may further reduce the province’s overall cotton production.

According to official reports, a cultivation target of 6,50,000 hectares with a yield of 4.2 million bales was set for the current fiscal year. But the crop on around 1,48,000 hectares has been lost by the recent deluge. The farm leaders and officials in the provincial agriculture department say that it is impossible to achieve the target.

“We had estimated the post-flood cotton output at around 2.8-3 million bales. But, following the viral attack on the near-harvest crop, the output will not be more than two million bales,” said an agricultural department official.

Farmers put the overall damage to crop from viral attack at 30-35 per cent. Agriculture experts point out various causes for the outbreak of viral diseases, water shortage being the major one.
 

 


“Late sowing due to water shortage, bad land management, application of poor quality seed and fertilisers , adulterated DAP and fake pesticides and insecticides often result in the outbreak of diseases like mealy bug, leaf curl virus, army worm and reddening of leaves,” they said.

Farmers of Naukot in Mirpurkhas district, a major cotton growing area, have come up with a flurry of complaints about a disease that reddens the leaves, resulting in yield losses.

Government officials in the plant protection department hold bad land management and use of impure cotton seeds responsible for the reddening disease. They said: “The leaves begin to fall after they turn red and stop growth of cotton plants.”

“Cotton crop on thousands of acres has been hit by the reddening disease in the area and farmers, who obtained seed and fertiliser on credit from local traders, have suffered heavy financial losses,” said Allah Bux, a farmer leader in Mirpurkhas district.

The mealy bug and reddening disease has also spread to Sanghar, Badin and Umerkot districts. Amin Memon, a member of a lower Sindh growers’ association, said more than 30 per cent crop was damaged in these districts due to these diseases.

“Persistent cloudy weather and reduced irrigation water to cotton fields have been identified as the major reason behind such diseases in these areas,” said Satidaan Singh Sodho, executive district officer of agriculture department in Badin.

Besides, the irrigation water rotation programme with long intervals by area irrigation officials at a time when the Indus River was in extremely flood during last more than 30 days, further aggravated water shortage in the cotton growing districts, he said.

Agriculture officials of the affected districts told this scribe on phone that in most of the areas of lower Sindh, the cotton was sown two months late due to water shortage.

“April and May are the cotton sowing months. But owing to severe water shortage, the farmers started sowing the crop from mid -June and continued till August,” they said.

When water arrived in the areas, the growers said, they had to make frantic efforts to cultivate cotton as much as possible. “But, now our poorly cultivated crop has fallen victim to various viruses due to low water availability and cloudy whether,” said a grower.

Umerkot district remained hard-hit. The farmers started cotton sowing only after it rained during early August. “We were able to begin sowing cotton only after it rained heavily in the first week of August, providing sufficient water for growing the crop,” said a farmer of Umerkot district.

But the happiness of growers in Umerkot was short-lived after they saw their crop attacked by mealy bug, red leaf disease and leaf curl virus. The growers claim that around 45 per cent of the crop in the district has been hit.

The situation of irrigation water in Sanghr district was also not better either. The cotton growers blamed the irrigation officials for creating artificial shortage in the Nara canal, where the water was released from the Sukkur Barrage. The canal irrigates over one million acres of cotton in Sanghar, Nawabshah, Badin and Umerkot districts.

“Some 55 per cent of the one million acres were brought under cotton sowing. But now most of it has been hit by viral diseases. Consequently, the overall production in the four major cotton-growing districts will drop by 40-45 per cent,” estimates Akhund Ghulam Mohammad of the Sindh Chamber of Agriculture.

Farmers say as no far-reaching efforts have been made by the provincial agriculture department to control the problem, the virus is spreading to standing crop in other areas, particularly those in lower Sindh.

But, agriculture officials of the affected districts claim that cotton disease control teams have been dispatched to tackle the problem.

Agriculture officials of the affected districts have confirmed the arrival of teams of plant protection department, but some growers doubt whether they are capable enough to bring the situation under control.

“They just come, survey the affected fields and hand out pesticide prescriptions to the financially battered farmers. No other help is provided. This is not going to help the cotton growers fight the viral attacks effectively. Because most of the disease-controlling pesticides they advise are either unavailable or do not help,” said an official at the Benazirabad district agriculture office.

Akhund Ghulam Mohammad believes that even if the disease is controlled now, it would be of no advantage. For, it is too late and the picking season has already set off.



Courtesy: The DAWN

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