An invasive pest known as the whitefly has rapidly infested palm oil and coconut plantations in Telangana’s Bhadradri Kothagudem district, leaving farmers distraught over the spread. According to officials, the pests — which are typically found in the United States, Mexico and Belize — have affected 50,000 acres of palm oil plantations and 2,000 acres of coconut plantations in the district.
According to reports, the pests have spread to the neighbouring Khammam district, where 30,000 acres of palm and 4,000 acres of coconut plantations have reportedly been affected. Facing a worsening crisis, horticulture officials have consulted scientists, who believe these pests will not survive since they are not native and cannot withstand the weather conditions in India.
Officials are also urging farmers to spray neem oil on the plants to ward off the insects.
Speaking to TNM, district horticulture officer Mariyanna said, “We had deliberations with scientists, they said that these non-native insects wouldn’t survive our temperatures for long. There is no need to panic. In a week or so, if the temperature rises, they will die.”
Officials in Khammam are also monitoring the situation. “The impact of these insects hasn’t been as severe as in Kothagudem,” the Khammam horticulture officer told TNM.
Whiteflies are sap-sucking insects, which resemble a very small moth in adult form and have a body length of about 2.5 mm. The insects have white wings and dark spots on the forewings.
The insects feed on the sap from under the surface of coconut and palm leaflets. An invasion of whitefly was reported back in 2016, in Pollachi, Tamil Nadu and then in Palakkad, Kerala. Isolated parts of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh have also suffered attacks from these pests. The insect was first studied in 2004 after their samples were collected from Belize.