Whitefly infestation giving Assam farmers sleepless nights

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Whitefly infestation has set the alarm bells ringing in the farm sector of Assam after it caused  widespread damages to coconuts and horticultural crops.

Scientists said the Rugos Spiralling whitefly ( Aleurodicus rugioperculatus) has caused crop damage in lower districts, with the insects possibly being carried through coconut saplings imported from south Indian states.

They also said that whitefly infestation has also spread across Nalbari and Darrang districts too though the actual damage is yet to be estimated

These tiny bugs – 2mm in size – with a light yellow body and white wings, can spell doom for crops and gives sleepless nights to farmers.

Whiteflies – both nymphs and adults – suck the plant’s sap, feeding on the underside of coconut leaves. Heavy infestation eventually leads to yellowing of leaves and finally causes death of the plant.

“Whitefly is a polyphagous pest, which means it can consume various kinds of food. It feeds on more than 200 host plants, including coconut, areca nut, banana, guava, mango, colocasia, jackfruit and other ornamental plants that have a market value. Excessive feeding leads to excretion of honeydew which is deposited on the upper surface of the leaflets, resulting in the growth of sooty mould. This, in turn, causes disfigurement of the hosts, affecting the photosynthetic efficiency of the plants”, said  Samiran Pathak, who is the principal scientist (entomology) at the Horticultural Research Station of Assam Agriculture University.

“Whitefly infestation has affected over five thousand plants, including a large numbers of coconut trees, across 450 hectares of land in Kamalpur agricultural circle in Kamrup district, on the outskirts of Guwahati. The story is very much the same in Nalbari and Darrang districts as well, though the infested area is to be estimated there. If preventive measures are not taken at the earliest, there is a possibility of the infestation spreading to states bordering Assam,” Pathak cautioned, adding that a solution is hard to find at the moment.

The menace was first spotted in Assam by locals of Kamalpur area in Kamrup district in June. After an investigation, the presence of whiteflies was confirmed there. Eliminating these pests is going to be a mammoth challenge for scientists, he added.

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