While Covid-19 continues to play havoc in the state’s least developed regions of Vidarbha and Marathwada, soyabean and cotton farmers are now confronting a new pest that threatens to destroy their crops
Ashok Kumar | Mumbai
Farmers in Vidarbha and Marathwada, two of the most backward regions of Maharashtra, who have been battling the Covid-19 crisis are now facing a new challenge – the rapid spread of a relatively new pest to the region, the white grub beetles (Holotrichia serrate).
The immature larvae of several species of scarab beetles, the white grubs have apparently spread from the western part of the state where they have played havoc over the years, destroying sugarcane crops. The state’s agriculture department had said that the pest had infested nearly 15 per cent of the 11 lakh hectares of cane area about two years ago in the western part, especially Pune and Solapur districts.
Devanand Pawar, general secretary of the Maharashtra Pradesh Kisan Congress (MPKC), told Clarion India on Tuesday that the farmers cannot see the white grubs as they are underground most of the time. “It is only when we dig that we find them,” said the farmer-leader. “But these beetles destroy the roots and soyabean and cotton crops in Vidarbha and Marathwada get damaged badly.”
The Sugarcane Breeding Institute of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research had in its report on white grub as a pest of sugarcane and its management noted that the grubs can withstand drought conditions by remaining dormant; deforestation is also responsible for its extensive spread. Many districts in both Vidarbha and Marathwada face drought-like conditions every year.
Interestingly, Shree Vighnahar Cooperative Sugar Mill, a Pune-based outfit, has for years encouraged farmers in western Maharashtra to launch a campaign against the pests and to catch the beetles. It proved to be quite a success, with farmers trapping nearly 30 lakh beetles and handing them over to the mill, which paid them almost Rs10 lakh. The Maharashtra government plans to replicate the programme elsewhere in the state.
But with Covid-19 continuing to rage across Vidarbha and Marathwada, government officials feel that this year it would be difficult to tackle the white grubs menace. In Vidarbha, which covers 11 districts including Nagpur, more than 1,200 people have died because of Covid-19. More than 800 of them succumbed in August. Marathwada has seen more than 1,300 deaths in its eight districts.