Friday, June 20, 2008

Why Endosulfan Stops Dreaded Armies in Their Tracks

Bhadrak is also God's own country. Rice paddies stretch all the way from Kolkata in the North to Chennai in the South. The Eastern seaboard of India has launched the most pioneering expeditions of India, from sea faring journeys of our ancestors to the rocket and missile tests of India today. Bhadrak is only a portion of this continuum, but it is a jewel in the verdant crown of the Protector of Earth and his sacred kith nevertheless.

The mid-1970s were glorious years to be responsible for pesticide business in Orissa. Droughts had taken a welcome break, and the terrible cyclone of the century was still beyond the horizon. Korean and indigenous steel lords had not arrived. These were Camelot years for Indian agriculture.

I was fortunate to have a demonstration plot near the rail tracks. The Puri Express is often on time as it passes Bhadrak. Engine drivers seemed to know that light traps must be switched on at the same time every night. I could temper the flow of kerosene so that the lamp lasted for no more or less than 2 hours. My farmer associate could switch on the light without my help. I was able to relax in the cool night breeze of the town lodge with air horns of buses and bold cockroaches for company.

My heart skipped a beat. The normally placid Jagadish could hardly wait for me to un-bolt the door.

“’Sheesh Katta Layda Poka is here Boss”.

It was action stations for me right away. Have you seen war movies with pilots scrambling to fighter planes? Only then will you be able to imagine the rapid action force of rural India. Hordes of people assembled in the darkness. Sprayers, pesticide, lamps, and water, were in place. We started before dawn. I had my own security. It was a man with a pitchfork and a blade. He was to keep snakes away from me, and help me bleed if I was bitten.

It took a fortnight to drive the Spodoptera away. It was really like fighting an invading army. Every molt made the caterpillars more thick-skinned, and their hairs like spears. However, the young ones were the most voracious. We lost acres before the brood was vanquished. The farmers were grateful, for they would have slept through the decisive stages of the invasion were it not for my light trap.

Cotton is not a major crop in Bhadrak, but it grew on a government farm. I dropped in to see what the Army Worm had made of the dicot. The field was spic and span. I must say that the organic cotton had not arrived in 1978. This field was managed by IPM and ICM.

The farm manager was not very well disposed towards me. He probably thought that my light trap fame was exaggerated. However, he was a government officer, so it was my duty to try and placate him. I heaped praise on his pest management expertise, but got only a laconic reply when I asked for his spray schedule.


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