Emerging Challenges in Agriculture Demand Advance Action Plan to Protect Crops

by Dr. Mukti Sadhan Basu & Dr. Shravani Basu (Originally published on LinkedIn)

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Recently, our Country reeled under devastating attacks of Fall Armyworm (FAW) in maize across India, which has since spread to cotton and sugarcane, among other crops. Scientists are still struggling to control the pest and save the crops. Meanwhile, another such serious threat on its way is Xylella fastidiosa; a vector-borne pest, also native to the Americas like FAW, which may lead to the death of range of horticultural crops. It can induce a range of diseases, including: Pierce’s disease of grapevine, phony peach disease, leaf scald of plum, citrus variegated chlorosis, olive quick decline and leaf scorch in almonds, coffee, oleander and many broad-leaved trees. The organism is transmitted by sap-sucking insects such as spittlebugs. The infection limits the tree’s ability to move water and nutrients and over time it withers and dies. At present there is no cure for the infection except pruning the infected branches or burning the tree to the ground depending on the severity of the infection. 

With no breathing time given to researchers, Xylella which surfaced in Italy in 2013, has already resulted in a 60% decline in olive yields and is set to cost the EU losses of over Euro 20 billion over the next several years (for olive alone). The bacterium has already posed a potential threat to olive plantations in Italy, Spain, Greece, France and Portugal. 

Given that Xylella fastidiosa has already been reported in China, India is at risk too. Besides, our biggest exposure could come from imported olive planting materials/saplings from Europe. This could severely and prematurely threaten the prospects of olive growing in Rajasthan and elsewhere in India.  

If Xylella fastidiosa enters and establishes itself in India, Indian agriculture at this point in time, while trying to shake off the severe economic damage caused by Coronavirus, will nosedive. The coming few years, therefore, cannot be the same as before. It’s a battle for revival of agriculture and bringing it back to health. In a post Corona situation, the goalpost for doubling farmers’ income as set in 2022 may be shifted to 2025, while making massive investments in agricultural research and infrastructure development over the next 3 years. 

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