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Thursday, November 26, 2020

Explained: What makes pest-prone kinnow crop ‘pesticide-free’ in Punjab

The kinnow is a year-long crop, often attacked by pests including mites at various stages, requiring several sprays of insecticide. So how can such a fruit be declared “pesticide-free”?

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Updated: February 18, 2020 8:11:21 am
Indian express explained, Punjab Agri Export Corporation, Punjab Kinnow, punjab agriculture, Punjab Agriculture University (PAU),Punjab Horticulture Department, Punjab news, India news, indian express news, latest news A kinnow plant at an orchard in Hoshiarpur, Punjab (Express Photo)

The Punjab Agri Export Corporation recently launched the ‘Punjab Kinnow’ brand at the kinnow festival in Abohar. This brand of kinnow, which is considered the ‘king fruit’ of Punjab, is also said to be “pesticide-free”. However, the kinnow is a year-long crop, often attacked by pests including mites at various stages, requiring several sprays of insecticide. So how can such a fruit be declared “pesticide-free”?

Why was the ‘Punjab Kinnow’ brand launched?

Horticulture department officials said this has been done along the lines of the region-specific branding of several other fruits like the ‘Nagpur orange’ (which even has a GI tag) and ‘Australian kiwi’. Punjab being the largest producer of kinnow in the country, such branding will attract more consumers.

“The branding of Punjab kinnow will help boost its export. Ultimately it is to benefit farmers in getting a premium price for their product. This year we had exported 10,000 tonnes of kinnow including six containers to Singapore apart from export to other countries and the southern parts of the country,” said General Manager, Punjab Agri Export Corporation, Ranbir Singh, adding that Punjab’s kinnow has several nutritive values including limonin, which helps control cholesterol level and has anti-cancer properties, which the consumer should be informed about.

Which pests is this crop vulnerable to and what precautions are taken against this?

Over a dozen types of insects and pests attack the kinnow plant’s leaves, stem and fruit through the year. The plant starts flowering in February-end, grows till July-August, turning from green to yellowish in September-October till the pre-harvesting stage in November. Kinnow crop harvesting starts in the first week of December in Punjab and continues till mid-March.

Experts say that the Citrus Psylla attacks the crop almost throughout the year till a month before harvesting in March-April, July-August and September-October. The Citrus Leaf Minor attacks the crop from April to mid-June and in the first week of November, a month before harvesting. The Citrus Whitefly and blackfly attack in April-May and September-October, while Black Citrus and Black Citrus Aphids are active August to October.

The Citrus Thrips has been known to prey on the plant from March to April, and the Citrus mite in May-June, August- September. The kinnow plant is also vulnerable to the Fruit Sucking bug, Mealybugs, Fruit Flies, Lemon butterfly etc. There are around 10 diseases like foot rot of plant, Fruit Drop, Citrus Canker, Citrus Scab, Sooty Mould Ring Spot, Greening, Citrus Tristeza, Die Back, etc. which attack both plant and fruit.

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How are they controlled?

Different chemical insecticides are required to be sprayed and recommended doses are set by the Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), Ludhiana. Farmers need to spray these when the insects cross the Economic Threshold Level (ETL) on a plant, leaf or fruit. Experts say bio-based and Neem-based organic sprays are also available but they are not very viable due to cost and quantity factors.

What is the effect of these insecticides on the kinnow fruit?

“These insecticides cause no harm when sprayed in the recommended doses, but several farmers have a mindset of using more than that, which is a major challenge and not good farming practice,” said Director, Punjab Horticulture Department, Shailender Kaur, adding that they are launching a campaign to educate farmers on controlled doses.

She added that fewer pests attack the kinnow plant so there is hardly any use of pesticide on it and it can be called ‘pesticide free’, but the attack of insects including thrips and whitefly are quite frequent, which need to be controlled through controlled use of insecticides.

In Punjab, 1 kg DAP and 1.75 kg Urea is recommended to be administered over six months on a 10-year-old kinnow plant, but farmers sometimes don’t follow the dosage and administer even double the amount.

Then why does the corporation say Punjab’s kinnow is safe for consumption?

Experts say the climate of the state naturally prevents usage of majority insecticides in the pre-harvesting period and three months of harvesting period from December to February.

“Punjab’s climate is great for kinnow crop because most of the insects start getting suppressed during the pre-harvesting period in November at the onset of winters and they remained suppressed till January or mid-February, which is the main harvesting period in Punjab. Because of these natural climatic conditions farmers are not required to spray any insecticides from November to mid-February and this makes kinnow safe for consumption,” said Kinnow expert and Horticulture Development Officer Bharat Bhushan, adding that even presence of residue of any insecticide, which is sprayed a month (November) or two before harvesting, remains negligible in the crop and these are almost pesticide/insecticide-free. He said the effect of any insecticide in the recommended doses lasts for a week on the kinnow crop.

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“We call our kinnow safe for consumption and pesticide-free because a large number of farmers are following the recommended doses and avoid using spray after September or October, much before harvesting and there is hardly any residue of these when the crop is ready for consumption in December,” said G M Ranbir Singh, adding that the Corporation has been exporting the fruit to various countries and the consignments have never been rejected so far in countries where the food norms are highly strict.

Singh added that the Department of Horticulture, through its five citrus estates including two Hoshiarpur and three in Malwa region, have been educating farmers about minimum usage of insecticides, grading and packaging of fruit to keep it fresh.

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