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Cotton Farmers in Northern India Struggle with Pink Bollworm Infestation

Published: December 21, 2023

Cotton farmers in the northern Indian states of Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan are facing an unprecedented crisis due to the infestation of pink bollworms. This year, the destructive pest attacked cotton crops at a later stage, severely impacting both yield and quality. Farmers like Manish Mehta in Haryana’s Sirsa district are bearing the brunt of the situation.

Cotton had been a reliable crop for farmers like Mehta as it required less water compared to paddy and fetched a good price in the market. However, the pink bollworm attack has caused a sharp decline in cotton quality, resulting in plummeting prices. Mehta stated that the price of cotton per quintal has fallen from Rs 10,000-11,000 to Rs 6,000.

The infestation not only affects farmers’ income but has also delayed the wheat sowing period. Labour costs have risen as well since it is difficult to find labourers willing to pick the infested crop.

South Asia Biotechnology Centre director Bhagirath Choudhary emphasized the severity of the situation, stating that cotton production has declined to 29.4 million bales. Choudhary also highlighted the non-compliance with conditions set for the production of Bt Cotton, which contributed to the proliferation of the pink bollworm.

To support affected farmers, the government has initiated minimum support price (MSP) operations through the Cotton Corporation of India (CCI). However, due to the compromised quality, CCI is unable to procure the affected cotton.

The crisis has raised concerns about the future of cotton cultivation in India. Choudhary warned that cotton productivity has been consistently declining since 2013-14, resulting in an annual loss of Rs 50,000 crore.

The cotton farmers are urging CCI to buy the remaining cotton in the market at MSP to alleviate their financial burden. However, the challenge remains in curbing the pink bollworm infestation and restoring the productivity of cotton crops.

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