A new set of problems add to the Tamil Nadu farmers’ woes – three new diseases have been affecting cotton in Perambalur district of the state. Powdery Mildew, Alternaria and Black Arm were seen on the cotton samples collected from Perambalur.
Moth bollworm, wilting, and root rot has also been affecting cotton. But that is not the end of the farmers’ woes. Three farmers have died while applying herbicides and pesticides, trying to get rid of the said diseases.
The outbreak of the diseases on cotton resulted in the heavy application of chemical herbicides and manures, more often than not, without the use of proper safety gear.
Raja, a farmer from Kunnam Taluk in Perambalur district of Tamil Nadu, died on October 26 reportedly due to chemical poisoning. He was cultivating cotton extensively and was using Mono Potash Phosphate fertilizer in his fields. Two other farmers Azhaguthurai and Perumal from Kunnam Taluk were admitted to the hospital after using the same fertiliser that Raja used.
Arjunan is another farmer who sprayed pesticide on his cotton farm. He complained of uneasiness, nausea and respiratory troubles soon after. He was admitted to a Government Hospital but could not be saved. Selvam, another farmer, died due to the application of organophosphate weed killers.
There were also reports from some villages that at least 20 farmers have been suffering from uneasiness, nausea and respiratory troubles after spraying weedicide in their fields.
The families of the deceased farmers have demanded compensation. But a retired High Court judge from Chennai told The New Indian Express that because the farmers took the risk themselves, the government cannot pay any compensation legally; the compensation should be given to them on humanitarian grounds.
Activists say that as the farmers were unaware of the ill-effects of the pesticides hence, compensation should be given to them.
The Perambalur District Administration has started a crackdown on shops selling fertilisers to farmers which can be harmful to their health. They have conducted safety awareness programmes to make farmers understand the ill-effects of chemicals. They also urged the farmers to wear proper safety gear every time they use such chemicals.
More than 33,000 hectares of cotton is being cultivated in Perambalur district alone. Environmentalists welcomed the move of raiding fertiliser shops as it would both help the farmers and also the environment. They urge the administration to spread awareness about organic farming to further support the farmers.
Cotton and its diseases
Powdery is a fungal disease. It can be identified with ash-coloured dots on top of the leaves. It will also have leaking sores at the bottom of the leaves.
Alternaria is a disease which causes leaf spot in cotton. It is primarily a leaf disease but symptoms may also develop on cotyledons and bolls. The fungus survives on undecomposed trash from previous cotton crops and is spread by air-borne spores.
Black Arm is a bacterial disease. Lesions appear on the top of the leaf which expands and becomes black.
Moth bollworm is caused by moth larva, root rot happens due to excessive moisture, and water stagnation and wilting is caused due to lack of proper nutrition.