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‘Red Rot’ Infestation In Sugarcane Leads India Into Trouble

fungus infestation occurred mainly in the water-logged areas in central Uttar Pradesh, where the Co-0238 variety was not recommended.

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Agriculture
Cane growers in Uttar Pradesh are slowly shifting to other varieties such as Co-0118 as the recovery rate of Co-0238 has gone down due to the infestation, Pixabay

The famed Co-0238 high-yielding sugarcane variety that has placed India on the verge of becoming the world’s largest sugar producer has run into trouble due to a ‘Red Rot’ infestation, forcing the government to hunt for a new strain to check a possible slump in output in the coming years.

Coimbatore-based Sugar Breeding Institute (ICAR-SBI), a constituent of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, has started working on a project to develop a variety that will address the problem of the fungal disease besides increasing cane yield and recovery rate (percentage of sugar to sugarcane).

The new variety is being developed at the institute’s Karnal-based centre, which may take up to three years to become ready for commercial use, ICAR-SBI Director Bakshi Ram told IANS.

“Broadly, there are three characters we are working on. These are increasing cane yield, resolving the Red Rot problem and improving sugar recovery. But focus in the new variety is on the Red Rot issue. It is welcoming if other two characters also gets better,” he said.

sugarcane
Sugar production in India in 2018-19 is expected to improve on the previous year’s record, which can make the country largest global producer, Pixabay

This fungal infection is said to be the most threatening sugarcane disease, commonly termed its cancer.

The area under Co-0238 has increased at a faster rate in subtropical regions after it was released in 2009-10, and now covers 1.19 million hectares.

In 2017-18, this variety made for a sugar recovery rate of over 13 per cent or production of 12.05 million tonnes in Uttar Pradesh alone as against the total production of around 32.25 million tonnes in the country.

Sugar production in India in 2018-19 is expected to improve on the previous year’s record, which can make the country largest global producer, provided Brazil continues with its decision to earmark more cane for producing ethanol.

Infestation of ‘Red Rot’ was first seen in 2016 in some pockets but its rapid proliferation has caused great worry to farmers, an official of the National Federation of Cooperative Sugar Factories (NFCSF) said.

sugarcane
Indian Council of Agricultural Research, has started working on a project to develop a variety that will address the problem of the fungal disease besides increasing cane yield and recovery rate,pixabay

“Cane growers in Uttar Pradesh are slowly shifting to other varieties such as Co-0118 as the recovery rate of Co-0238 has gone down due to the infestation. We think this variety may be phased out in the next four-five years,” said NFCSF Managing Director Prakash Naiknavare.

Bakshi Ram said the fungus infestation occurred mainly in the water-logged areas in central Uttar Pradesh, where the Co-0238 variety was not recommended.

Also Read: UN food agency Pushes ‘Smart Crops’ as Rice Alternative to defeat Hunger in Asia

“The infestation occurred due to plantation of the Co-0238 variety with other susceptible cane varieties in the water-logged areas,” he pointed out.

Replantation of with new Co-0238 seeds can provide relief to farmers and this advisory has been sent to all sugar mills in the state, he added. (IANS)

Next Story

Research: Having Diverse Natural Areas Near Agriculture Helps Farmers Financially During Calamities

"New global and local policy should specifically target conserving and enhancing biodiversity"

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University of British Columbia ecologist Diane Srivastava, with a damselfly, an insect often used as an indicator species for estimating biodiversity and assessing ecosystem health. (T. Zulkoskey). VOA

Farmers reap surprising benefits from having areas that are biodiverse  with many plant and animal species nearby, according to new research. A study finds that having diverse natural areas near agriculture helps farmers financially during droughts, and the more diverse the areas are, the better. Policies that preserve biodiversity near farms may ease economic pressure in places with severe droughts, the authors say.

“If you plant the same sort of crops next to a natural area that is very high in biodiversity versus one that’s very low in biodiversity, [the positive effect] spills over into the agricultural products,” said Frederik Noack, a professor of food and resource economics at the University of British Columbia who led the study.

Some of that spillover can be tied to the increased diversity of insects in places that host many different species of plants, experts say. Pollinators that help plants reproduce, like bees and moths, and spiders that prey on agricultural pests like aphids and beetles are especially important.

Noack hoped to learn if having biodiverse areas close to farms could help crops be more resistant to drought  and if that impact would be big enough to be seen in farmers’ incomes.

farmers, diversity, agriculture
Farmers reap surprising benefits from having areas that are biodiverse with many plant and animal species nearby, according to new research. Wikimedia Commons

Big data from small farms

The researchers used data from 7,556 households in 304 villages in Asia, Africa and Latin America, where farmers derive their incomes from traditional agriculture as well as forest products like lumber and firewood.

Noack and his research team looked for a connection between the level of natural biodiversity  in this case, the number of plant species in the area  and how strongly drought affected the incomes of local farmers.

The researchers had expected that greater local biodiversity would benefit farmers, and it did. Farmers in areas with half the biodiversity lost twice as much income when droughts hit during the growing season.

Noack said that initially they thought the effect was just correlated with crop diversity. “Maybe you plant more different crops in areas with higher natural biodiversity because maybe there are just more crops available in those areas and that’s actually what’s driving the effect.”

But that’s not what they found. Even when they accounted for the effect of greater crop diversity, the farmers’ incomes seemed to be stabilized just by being close to diverse natural areas that can host many types of pollinators.

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“If you plant the same sort of crops next to a natural area that is very high in biodiversity versus one that’s very low in biodiversity, [the positive effect] spills over into the agricultural products,” said Frederik Noack. Pixabay
Having access to forests was also an income stabilizer. Because forests are the result of many years of growth rather than just a single season, income from forest products is less susceptible to drought and can offset agricultural losses, the researchers found.

ALSO READ: Government to Launch Solar Scheme for Farmers to Ensure Rs. 1 Lakh Income

Encouraging conservation

Bruno Basso, an ecosystems scientist at Michigan State University who was not involved in the research, commented in an email that the researchers had been able to show that “biodiversity and forest conservation play a critical role in adapting and mitigating the negative effects of increased climate variability.” Noack hopes that this study can become part of the larger debate about conservation of natural areas.

“Should we just have protected area far away in areas that we don’t use or shall we try to integrate that into normal land use?” said Noack. “This study actually says maybe we should at least have some level of biodiversity conservation in the agricultural landscape because of this positive spillover.” Basso agreed. “New global and local policy should specifically target conserving and enhancing biodiversity,” he said. (VOA)