Jute cultivation under threat of pest attack, scientists warn

KOLKATA: Scientists at India's leading jute research institute in Barrackpore raised the alarm about the attack by pests destroying jute crops that could further exacerbate the crisis looming over rural Bengal due to the supply chain disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to scientists, around 15-20% of the harvest is threatened.

Almost 7 lakh farmers in the country and 50 lakh people depend directly or indirectly on gold fiber for their livelihood. A large part of them are located in Bengal, the largest jute producing state in the country.

Jute farmers have done commendable work and planting of the crop has been completed in over 90% of the area. Now, amid the Covid-19 crisis, this year's fickle climate is cause for concern over the crop's healthy growth. It has been cloudy and there have been many showers. And these conditions make those vulnerable to being infested by pests and diseases, said Gouranga Kar, director of the Central Research Institute for Jute and Allied Fibers (CRIJAF) based in Barrackpore, sadly. (ICAR), the lead agency for coordinating, guiding, and managing agricultural research and education.

About 12.5 lakh acre are grown on jute in Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia, North 24 Parganas and Hooghly. The state produces around 75-80 lakh of jute bales annually. Jute bags are essential for the movement of goods.

Currently, jute cultivation in different parts of the state is between 20 and 50 days old. Due to heavy rain in some areas of Bengal and adjacent states, the jute fields have been flooded. Farmers need to drain the water immediately. After a few days, there may be incidence of blight and damping of seedlings, which requires the application of fungicides, Kar warned.

Although ICAR-CRIJAF is issuing weekly agricultural advisories on a priority basis, scientists are unsure of reaching farmers. With the blockade restricting movement and many farmers who are not very familiar with digital platforms, there is concern that the lack of guidance could adversely affect a section of the crop, exacerbating the financial crisis in rural Bengal. .

Subrata Satpathy, the chief scientist and head of the institute's crop protection division, said many farmers were struggling with attacks by the indigo caterpillar, the hairy caterpillar, the gray weevils and the yellow mite. From weakening the base of the plant to defoliation, pests can cause a lot of damage to the commercial crop. Using pesticides in measured amounts can combat the situation. But urgent measures are required, Satpathy said.