A spate of suicides by farmers in the cotton belt of Parkas District in coastal Andhra Pradesh is yet another evidence of the failure of chemical farming. Lured by high yielding varieties of cotton and promise of huge profits farmers took to it in a big way some years ago. Guntur and Parkas districts were traditional tobacco areas but after the erratic experience with the tobacco crop which is a near monopoly of the Indian Leaf Tobacco Development Corporation the farmers took to cotton and found the going quite good. It is an important commercial crop in Andhra Pradesh grown over an area of 5-6 laky hectares with an annual production of 8-10 laky bales of 170 legs each in the state. Guntur district accounts for 1.62 laky hectares and Parkas District 7296 hectares -Le. about'47% of cotton area in the state.

Cotton is a finicky crop but if the farmer nurses it with care and devotes constant attention he is assured of a good yield and income. While farmers with large holdings were unable to devote much time, attention and money to the crop the small growers owning one or two acres played for high stakes by taking on lease land from bigger farmers and raising cotton.

In the year 1987-88 cotton crop suffered very badly due to prolonged dry spell during the early vegetative phase in Parkas and Guntur districts. Inadequate rains during Sharif 1987 followed by 3 successive cyclones in October and November 1987 damaged the crop considerably. This was further followed by widespread heavy attack of American bookworm (Hetiothis armigtm) in November - December 1987 in Guntur and Parkas districts. Adding fuel to the fire was the disastrous attack by the whitefly (Bemisia tabaci gent). It is also reported that there was a large scale sale of spurious or adulterated pesticides. As it is the "budworm" had developed resistance to pesticides in use. The result was* catastrophic. In Parkas District alone nearly 8000 hectares of cotton crop was removed without any pickings and in the remaining area, yield had come down to 2-3 qumUWhcctare as against the normal yield of 14-16 quintals/hectare (see Table 1 and 2).

In December the "Death Harvest" began when the desperate farmers and their families took to pesticides that could not save their crop. The official death toll is 30 whereas there are claims that it may be much more.

Earlier reports indicate that the Hefiotms caused considerable damage to cotton (38%) in the year 1977-78 during December after cessation of cyclonic rains in November and in the subsequent year (1978-79) during the month of January. Since then the damage caused by( the pest was negligible and controlled by recommended inscribes. In 1984-85 whitefly became a serious pest and caught the attention of scientists and cotton growers. Several chemicals and plant products were identified for effective whitefly control and while gaining confidence in the management of whitefly the overlapping occurrence of Halitosis outbreaks’ during this year caused extensive damage to cotton crop resulting in heavy losses. Halitosis occurred on cotton as early as in August and continued with heavy populations throughout crop growth,’ A single cotton plant harbored as many as 7-18 larvae in between November and January months of 1987-88 compared to 0.1 - 4 in the previous years



Sl . No District Area Under
cotton in
Area damages in
Yield in
Total loss
in lakhs
Loss less
than 5%
Loss more
than 50%
Normal Actuals
1. Guntur 1,65,200 70,000 80,000 20 7.5 20.35
2. Prakasam 80,000 - 20,000 20 17.0 2.4



Sl. No District Drought
of damage
Best Damage
% of
fly area
% of
1. Guntur     1,260 Not
67,550 50 22,500 50
2. Prakasam 21,000 40.50 72,055 55.60 72,596 60    
        73,315   140,096   22,500  

Several causes have been attributed to the sudden outbreak of Halitosis on cotton in Andhra Pradesh. Pigeon pea suffered heavily due to severe attack of Halitosis in 1986-87. Proper plant protection measures are lacking for pigeon pea and hence the residual population of Halitosis on the pigeon pea crop was carried over to cotton crop of 1987-88 season through summer hosts particularly tomato, bendy etc. The pest population occurred much earlier in the cotton crop than the normal period (October - November). These were ignored by cotton growers without taking proper control measures due to severe drought resulting in very poor crop growth. Timely spraying operations against these pests could not be undertaken due to scarcity of water in many villages. Hence pests multiplied during early part of the season and by the time the crop recovered from drought, following cyclonic rains' during October the pest population reached an unmanageable level All attempts made to contain the pest outbreak with recommended insecticides were found futile.

The excessive and improper use of plant protection chemicals over several years has been the chief culprit of the pest outbreak. It is reported that in Southern India more than 26 species of parasites feed on Halitosis. Also several predators like birds, spiders, bugs, mantis, earwigs, and ants eat the eggs, larvae pupae and the moth of the insect. The natural enemy component was almost non-existent in any of the eco-systems where severe outbreak of the pest was noticed. The repeated and discriminate use of some of the most persistent insecticides like DDT along with synthetic pyrethorid components literally wiped away many of the natural enemies. Predation by birds was also not observed as the poisoned insects might have affected the vertebrate predators or the birds might have been scared away from the pesticide treated areas.

The choice of pesticides, dosage, number of rounds applied methods of application were also not adopted scientifically. 3 or 4 insecticides were even applied together as tank mix often at sub lethal doses and applied on cotton. After seeing the total failure or inadequate control the farmers started applying heavy doses. Pesticides were applied even 30-40 times as a result of which the pests developed high resistance to these pesticides.

Application of pesticides with battery operated UDV sprayers might have killed natural enemies drastically. The defective application methods resulted in application of concentrated. pesticides on some plants and only water on others. Several improper spray delivery systems like 'Akola' pump sprayer which applied the chemical spray fluid on top of the plants allowing run off and drop of the chemical and improper coverage of the entire plant were also responsible for poor efficacy of chemicals applied.

Many High Yielding varieties are highly susceptible to the pest. Staggered savings particularly under irrigated condition, extending the crop duration by continuous irrigation, rationing and poor crop refuse destruction are also important factors attributed to the outbreak of the pest on cotton. Pest problem was also acute in areas where there were no closed season in the year.

Monocropping led to the deterioration in quality and yields. Monocropping results in nutritional disorders associated with deficiency of magnesium, nitrogen, pottasium, phosphorous and other physiological causes. Increased nitrogen application without regard to balanced phosphorous and pottasium application led to high incidence of sucking pests in general and whitefly in particular.

A critical study of the pest populations in five cotton growing areas in Andhra Pradesh was made by Reddy in 1988. Three synthetic Pyrethorids and six conventional insecticides were included in the bioefficacy evaluation at recommended doses. In the case of Guntur population it was observed that only 10% mortality of the larvae caused by cypermethrin monocroptophos, quinalphos, endosulfan and DDT, 20% mortality by deltamctrin, fenvalerate and chloppyriphos and 30% mortality by carbaryi. As was stated earlier the insect had developed resistance and cross resistance to almost all insecticides in Guntur region which may be the result of many years of indicrirninatc use of the pesticides in that area.

The inefficiency of many insecticides was also evident with the populations at Nandiyal, Warangal and Adilabad though not at the same level as in Guntur. But the pest was controlled to an extent of 75-100 in Sreekakulam area where the cotton cultivation is relatively new and pesticide load is far less in the agro-environment. Though DDT is banned for crop protection in our country it is still used for cotton protection in Southern states and this chemical comes from public health sector to the agriculture. Development of many fold resistance in Guntur population to synthetic pyrethroids and endosulfan has been observed. Use of Synthetic pyrethorids has resulted in an unusually high degree of resistance in a large number of insects all over the world. What is more alarming is the fact that insects which develop immunity also develop cross resistance to other pesticides. This means that other effective insecticides used against these pests will become useless in future. The resistance to synthetic pyrethorids occurs in a short time as compared to other chemicals. Use of synthetic pynethorid has also led to the flare up of secondary pest like uphids and mites. In several parts of India mite a secondary pest has become a serious problem.

The Haryana Agricultural University had warned the State Government way back in 1984 against the use of synthetic pyrethroids as they prove to be carcinogenic Ignoring the reports the Punjab Agricultural University purchased Rs.14 crores worth of chemical in 1984. Countries selling synthetic pyrethorids (Japan and United States) to India have banned their use in their own countries.

Several measures have been taken by the Department of Agriculture to control the pests. These include pest surveillance, village level training programmers for the farmers in identifying pests and the control measures, use of whitefly resistant varieties, avoidance of the use of repeated and heavy doses of Synthetic Pyrethroids, alternate cropping pattern to check spread of pests and diseases, and wide publicity through mass media for the proper and efficient use of insecticides. Several quality control measures have been taken by the Andhra Pradesh Government to check the quality of insecticides. Efforts are being taken to curb the menace1 of sale of sub-standard and spurious pesticides. The State Government has also taken several steps to help affected farmers in debt by waiving off loans and offering several subsidies. The problem does not end here. We need to look for a long term solution which is obviously an effective and ecologically sound plant protection measure.

Several species of parasites and predators were reported to attack Halitosis armiger in different parts of die country. Deliberate attempts to mass breed and use them in the field are rather limited. 'Again, biological control through conservation of naturally occurring' parasites, predators and insect pathogens is also very important as they can bring down the pest population by about 60-70 per cent. The usefulness of egg parasites, Trichogfamma spp. the Telenomous spp., egg-larval parasite, Chelonus blackbumi, larval parasities, Complete is cholorideae, Eucelatoria bryani, Eriboms trochanteratus, etc., and pupal parasites, Trichospuus pupivora, Testrastichus Israeli and predators like Chrysopa spp. Menochilus etc, will be highly useful to keep the pest under considerable check. The techniques for the mass I production and field release of these biocontrol agents are already’ available in the country and the heed is to strengthen the extension efforts in this direction. The indigenous Nuclear Polyhedrosis Virus (NPV) proved to be an efficient biological control agent of H. armiger. Mass culture of this should be encouraged. National regulatory bodies should develop a defined practical attitude for development and utilization of microbes. Only then the supply of NPV to the farmers at periodic intervals will be possible. Research on the possible use of plant products like Neem seed kernel extract and Neem oil emulsion for pest protection against pests needs to be intensified.

The tragedy at Andhra Pradesh should be an eye opener to policy makers and supporters of Green Revolution, though much has been talked about Integrated Pest management it seems .today that chemical control/pesticide research takes the major share. We look for alternatives only when chemicals fail Also the rate at which we are decreasing our genetic diversity through hybridization and selection is alarming. We are in a danger wherein the entire crop could be wiped out by some pest and we are left with no new variety to start from Let us wake up before we see the "Death harvest" in several other crops. It is time for us to make a serious analysis of the pest control methods and opt for naturally sound ones!


1. The Hindu, February 13, 1988.

2. The Hindu, February 21st, 1988.

3. India Today, "Death Harvest", March 31st, 1988.

4. Times of India, February 22nd, 1988.

5. Times of India, February 23rd, 1968.

6. Indian Express, August 12th, 1984.
7. Indian Express, October 6th, 1985.

8. The problem of Halitosis in India and its integrated management" (keynote address delivered at the National Workshop on Halitosis Management Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, February 18th-19th, 1988) by Dr.SJayaraj, Director, Centre for Plant Protection Studies.

9. The Halitosis Armiger (HUB), serious threat to cotton cultivation in Andhra Pradesh". (Paper presented in the workshop on Halitosis Management on different crops held at TNAU) by the DrAiJatya Narayana Reddy, Senior Scientist (cotton).

10. Statement made by the Hon. Minister for Agriculture and legislature affairs, on March 1988 in reply to notice under Rule 304 given by Sarvastri Mitaga Reddy, S.Sambaiah and others regarding the unabated suicides of cotton growing Riots occurring in Parkas and Guntur District

Author:Dr. K. Vijayalakshmi

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