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The pesticide on the brinjal plate

Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh’s indefinite moratorium on Bt brinjal has put the brakes on a reform that...

Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh’s indefinite moratorium on Bt brinjal has put the brakes on a reform that would have drastically cut the amount — and cost — of pesticides used by farmers.

To get a sense of the volume of pesticides used,The Indian Express travelled to Simuliapara,100 km from Kolkata,in the heart of the brinjal belt. (At 2.7 million tonnes a year,West Bengal accounts for almost 30 per cent of the total brinjal production in the country).

Brinjal is a seasonal vegetable,grown from August to January. The residual crop remains in fields until February-March. Many farmers don’t harvest it in January and February as prices usually fall in winter with demand.

Size of the farm: 0.25 acre

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Farmer: Hiralal Mazumdar,60

Yield this month: 300 kg brinjal

Worth of stocks sold: Rs 10,000

Ground preparation/pesticide cost:

• Furadon pesticide for the soil: Rs 3,000

• Brinjal seeds: Rs 300

• Between August 2009 and January 2010,another set of pesticides used: Rs 5,000

The pesticide spray:

• After seedlings are planted,Mazumdar sprays what he calls “vish tel” (poison oil). This is a “pyrethroid insecticide” — a composition of Permethrin and Cypermethrin. This kills the dreaded fruit and shoot borer pest,Leucinodes Orbonalis.

• The farm needs to be sprayed at least twice a week — or 48 times in six months.

• Each week since September 2009,Mazumdar has sprayed about 560 ml of the composition of Permethrin and Cypermethrin,mixed in 140 litres of water. In all,he used about 15 litres of the pesticide. Cost: about Rs 5,000.

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Even this dose is no guarantee against the “wilting disease,” in which the plant yellows and dies.

Biswanath Bandopadhyay,entomologist at Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswa Vidyalaya (BCKV) at Kalyani,says that,ideally,after the use of pyrethroids,the harvested crop should be left in the field for 21 days before it’s sold. But most brinjal farmers,including Mazumdar,don’t wait that long — they even spray the “poison oil” hours before taking the produce to the market.

The Bt gene would eliminate the fruit and shoot borer pest that accounts for about 95 per cent of the pests attacking a brinjal plant. The farmers would still have to deal with pests like mites,aphides and epilachna beetle but,unlike the fruit and shoot borer,these do not attack the brinjal fruit but only the leaves and stems.

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One or two sprays — maximum three — would be required during the entire crop season.

The price of Bt brinjal seeds is likely to be 15-20 per cent more than the normal brinjal seeds,although Tamil Nadu Agricultural University,Coimbatore,and the University of Agricultural Sciences,Dharwad — the two collaborators in the development of Bt brinjal — have said the price would not exceed that of normal seeds.

First published on: 18-02-2010 at 02:27:38 am
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