Vijayawada: The Indian Oil Palm farmers are likely to be suffered by low yields this year as a result of a deadly invasive pest called Rugose Spiralling Whitefly (RSW) which is rapidly infecting the Oil Palm plantations across the major crop areas in Southern States –the region accounts for about 70% of the total production in the country. The pest, which was noticed above the permissible Economic Threshold Level (ETL) in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Telangana, is a major cause of concern for the Ministry of Agriculture as this dangerous species can damage plants and significantly reduce yield. Scientifically called as Aleurodicus rugioperculatus Martin (RSW), the disruptive pest has already infected several thousands of acres of Oil Palm plantations.
Primarily found in Coconut plantations, the insect which doesn’t have a natural enemy to supress its growth, is multiplying its population while invading other crops creating a menace in agriculture economy of the country.
A joint survey conducted by ICAR – Indian institute of Oil Palm Research (IIOPR), DAC&FW, state agriculture departments of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and CIPMC-Vijayawada found that RSW is also visible on secondary host plants like Oil Palm, Banana, Custard Apple and Guava, And it was even spreading to non-host plants as well.
According to the survey, it is found that the harmful pest, RSW, is spreading quickly from Kadiam mandal of Andhra Pradesh to surrounding mandals – creating an alarming situation to Oil Palm plantations in this region. East Godavari, West Godavari, Krishna, Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam districts were among the most affected areas, about 10,226 ha of coconut and 11,744 ha of Oil Palm plantations were damaged due to this insect. A lions share of this damage has taken place in the Tadepalligudam, Chagallu, Nidadavole and deverapalli mandals of West Godavari District in Andhra Pradesh.
India is the world’s biggest edible oil importer and these imports account for about two thirds of total consumption. India highly depends on Malaysia and Indonesia for palm oil imports as it doesn’t have enough cultivation of Oil Palm in the country.
According to the Institute of Oil Palm Research, India has identified 19.33 lakh ha for cultivation of Oil Palm across 18 states, however, it is currently cultivating on over 3.31 lakh ha in 13 states of the country. With about a half of the total country’s area under cultivation, Andhra Pradesh is the largest Oil Palm producer in India followed by Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Mizoram, Odisha and Telangana. According to NABARD, Coconut is grown on 1.94 million ha in 19 states and 3 Union territories producing 15,730 million nuts every year.
The invasive and harmful pest can severely damage plantations wherever it takes host. The visible characteristics of RSW include sap sucking which leads to stress on Palm due to emergence of a heavy presence of wax and excreta that affects palm hygiene. This sooty waxy mould reduces photosynthetic activity and in turn reduces the active leaf area. FFB development is hampered due to this infestation and it is observed that up to 30% yield reduction can be witnessed in severely affected Oil Palm gardens.
Due to this reason, the Indian farmers are currently worried over the potential production loss to the tune of 30% that could severely affect their earnings this year. India produces an average 3 lakh tons of Oil Palm per annum and that is likely to be affected by this insect. Hence, the farmers are demanding the government to take immediate action to contain further spreading of RSW in across the affected areas.
The industry experts feel that the end prices of palm oil could also go up proportionately if the production is hit by the insect. “Even the international scenario is not optimistic as the palm oil imports from Malaysia have come down significantly due to its Prime Minister Mr Mahathir Mohamad’s remarks on Kashmir issue”, an Industry analyst who didn’t wish to be identified said.
India during 2018-19 imported about 9.6 million tons of edible oils, both crude and refined, according to a news report. Palm Oil exports from Malaysia also fell by over 10% due to the reasons mentioned above.
Keeping in view of the severity of pest attack, the union Agriculture Ministry had advised major Coconut and Oil Palm growing states to extensively monitor and assess population of RSW through Rapid Roving Survey. Hence, the ministry sought a strong linkage among state agriculture department, state agriculture university, ICAR Institutes and farmers towards implementation of integrated pest management (IPM) at village level.
Since the invasive pest, RSW, is rapidly spreading to other crops such as Coconut and other major crops, the industry experts are also demanding a rapid action by the Government of India and by the respective State Governments to curb the menace. Failed in doing so, the spiralling effect could cripple the major commercial crops in the country and influence the commodity prices which may lead to a major agrarian crisis, the experts warned the government.
Suggesting the measures to control the menace, Mr Chiranjiv choudary, Commissioner of Horticulture, Andhra Pradesh said, “This is a serious issue and we need an integrated approach to control the pest. Due to rising temperatures, it is the right time to eradicate RSW completely in the state as the climate favours us now. We should restrict the pest to the existing areas and should not allow it to spread to the other areas at any cost. To make this happen, we must follow the effective controlling measures in a coordinated approach by joining hands with the scientific community, departmental officers and farmers and work as team to put an end to the menace”.