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India - Farmers fume over yield loss in ‘Andhra Ponni’ due to disease

Rice blast, a fungal disease, haunts farmers, who had raised the Andhra Ponni (BPT-5204 ) variety, in Tiruchi district. With samba paddy harvest getting under way, farmers in some parts of the district have reported a fall in yield due to the disease.

While a section of farmers have claimed severe yield loss, sources in the Agriculture Department say that incidence of the disease was confined only to some places where there could have been yield losses ranging from 20% to 50%.

Puliyur A. Nagarajan, president, farmers wing of the Tamil Maanila Congress, said farmers who had raised the variety were in tears as they had suffered heavy losses. “Farmers had taken up cultivation with a lot of confidence and expectations this samba season as the storage position at the Mettur dam was good. But many farmers who had raised the ‘Andhra Ponni’ variety had suffered heavy losses as they could harvest just about eight bags (60 kg each) an acre,” he said.

On an average, farmers harvest about 35 bags an acre in the variety and some get up to 40 bags. But the price factor is the biggest attraction for the farmers. “Traders offer up to ₹1,500 a bag, while the other varieties get about ₹150 to 250 lesser. But some of the other varieties give a much higher yield, compensating for the moderate price. Yet, farmers persist with the ‘Andhra Ponni,’ due to the demand,” an officer said.

Incidence of the disease has been a recurrent phenomenon in the district over the past few years. Despite repeated advisories issued by the Agriculture Department asking farmers not to go in for the variety, as it was susceptible to the disease, a large number of farmers continue to raise it, lured by the better price that it commands in the open market.

According to rough estimates, it has been raised on about 40% of the total paddy area of about 1.09 lakh acres in the district this season. The incidence of the disease is largely confined to some places in the canal-irrigated delta areas, sources said.

“The disease has affected fields of farmers who had raised the crop late and those who failed to follow the department’s recommendations of proper seed treatment and plant protection measures,” an official told The Hindu. “We advise the farmers not to raise the crop late, beyond September, but many raised the crop in October. Dew and low night temperature make the crop susceptible to the disease,” he added.

Call for ban

Responding to the official position, Mr.Nagarajan and some other farmers suggest that the Agriculture department should ban the variety as the incidence of blast had been reported in the district repeatedly over the past few years. The yield in TKM-13 variety, recommended as an alternative by the Agriculture department, is not very good and the rice is not fine too. The Tamil Nadu Agricultural University should also come up with better disease-resistant fine varieties, he said and urged the government to sanction compensation to farmers who had suffered loss.

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