Equivalent of Covid emerges in Indian agriculture, can affect food security

Jannie Delucca

There has been a great deal of controversy in excess of how Covid-19 emerged. For the previous one and half calendar year, Covid-19 – an invasive, remarkably infectious and virulent disease has devastated community overall health and plagued the health care program in India and across the globe. At the same time, however remaining unnoticed at urban plan stage, a troika of alien enemies have infiltrated agriculture and plagued farmers and their crops in the previous few decades. In spite of gurus sounding alarms for decades, the biosecurity, phytosanitary import regulation and quarantine measures unsuccessful to have the inflow of invasive pests and diseases.

The initially and foremost enemy of agriculture is the invasive drop armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda J.E. Smith) that invaded the hinterlands in Could 2018. It is a devastating pest of maize and now can be observed damaging sugarcane, sorghum and millets. The 2nd unidentified enemy is a fungal plant pathogen (Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense) novel pressure “Tropical Race-4” (TR-four) infecting the banana crop in latest decades. Past, but not the the very least is a ravenous migratory pest desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria), a gregarious pest that has turn into a nuisance to farmers in previous two decades. In several spots, these crop enemies have taken a toll as farmers are grappling with management procedures and effective handle measures.

Compromising meals stability

The new enemies of agriculture are explained as the equivalent of Covid-19 and have the potential to spread like an epidemic in agriculture and compromise India’s meals stability. It is time that crop overall health enemies get the kind of plan attention provided for the management of Covid-19, which includes the quickly-tracking crisis acceptance of novel biotherapeutics and vaccines, surveillance of prevalence, determination of micro-containment zones and recognition about appropriate conduct. Strengthening phytosanitary and quarantine measures, shedding anti-science bias in the direction of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) and genome editing, quickly-tracking acceptance of biotech features and crop defense molecules and deployment of drones are some of crucial spots of interventions for the prevention and mitigation of threat by invasive pests and diseases in agriculture. The Indian authorities must glance beyond the produced pseudo-controversy and misinformation about science of agriculture help plan atmosphere, streamline regulatory procedures and observe inter-ministerial cooperation in various regulatory bodies to accomplish the intention of crop overall health and meals stability

A latest fast roving study by SABC of fodder maize crop in some elements of Aurangabad division in early summer months indicated a worrying pattern of FAW infestation in fodder maize fields that can have a spill in excess of effect of business maize in the forthcoming kharif time. Also, there had been stories of FAW infestation of maize crop planted in spring and summer months in North, North-East and Southern India. There is a have to have to hold shut check out on pest dynamics and maize growers must be alerted for imminent risk, if any. The fast migration of FAW considering the fact that Could 2018 displays the capability of the pest to immediately reproduce, intense feeding as nicely as quickly migration to maize generating areas. The agricultural R&D and extension program must not stay complacent, and farmers have to have to be wary of the ravenous drop armyworm.

Novel fungal pressure

In addition, a novel fungal pressure TR-four has been a short while ago claimed in 2017 and emerged as a huge risk to banana fruit plantation in Bihar, UP, MP and Maharashtra. The TR-four race of panama wilt of banana has leapfrogged across the globe, beginning from Taiwan, then to South Asia, Africa and has now entered India. The pressure TR-four impacts the extensively cultivated exportable banana wide range Grand Naine (G-nine) and can result in large decline to farmers and spread rapidly in soil and h2o. Right up until now, the banana crop planted in excess of 9 lakh hectares mainly remains pest-absolutely free other than some manageable disease these types of as Sigatoka and Bunchy top rated virus. The large-scale banana plantation in Bihar, UP, MP, Maharashtra and Gujarat are susceptible to disease TR-four and can sufferunless it is thoroughly managed. None of the cultivated versions are resistant. Thus, there is a have to have forsurveillance to fully grasp the an infection and signs of this disease for timely handle measures. Presently the only cure is to recognize the wilted crops because of to TR-four and demolish them to stay away from contamination. Sanitation of the banana gardens is the ideal preventive evaluate.

Certainly, checking and surveillance are the hallmarks for early response, handle measures and effective management of the invasive enemies. Desert locust is the basic case in point of how the good checking allows FAO to deliver forecasts, early warning and alerts on the timing, breeding, scale and place of invasions. India suffered locust outbreak in 2020 and we must now actively coordinate with FAO Locust Plan to assess risk of migration of locust swarms from Africa towards South-West Asia in the foreseeable future. Developing bilateral collaboration with locust hosts as nicely as afflicted nations is crucial to track, trace and mitigate destruction.

Biotech innovation

Yet another huge question is how innovation in biotechnology would be built obtainable in our place to far better handle the drop armyworm as nicely as TR-four fungal disease. The US and Latin American nations have been capable to handle drop armyworm for the previous 20 decades working with insect resistant Bt maize. Australian experts have a short while ago developed genetically-modified bananas working with the genome edited CRISPR technique for Fusarium mutant TR-four. These technologies will before long be adopted by banana increasing nations to overcome the unbearable effect of Fusarium disease. In India, the plan uncertainty on genetically modified crops has by now delayed introduction of risk-free and confirmed biotechnologies in maize, soybean and canola.

Novel vaccines and biotherapeutics developed by genetic modification techniques have been expeditiously accredited for mass inoculation, however, the genetic modification in agriculture is delayed and denied to hundreds of thousands of farmers other than for Bt cotton, productively commercialised in 2002 and planted in excess of 95 for every cent of cotton region in 2020. In spite of a biological war, a robust plan atmosphere and a huge force to R&D and innovation can eradicate the troika of alien enemies, make improvements to farm realisation and sustainable agriculture.

(Chaudhary is the founder-director of South Asia Biotechnology Centre (SABC), Jodhpur Agale is Research Scientist at SABC and Mayee, President of board of directors of the Centre)

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