Deadly Wheat Disease Enters India Through Porous Bangladesh Border

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Wheat blast, the germs of which came from Bangladesh, has affected two districts of Bengal.


Murshidabad::  It's not just smuggling - if currency and cattle - that plagues the porous India-Bangladesh border in West Bengal. In Murshidabad and Nadia districts, a deadly fungal infection that affects wheat and is capable of wipe out the entire harvest of a nation, has entered India. Last year, the disease had badly affected Bangladesh and now in West Bengal, 800 hectares of standing crop had to be burnt.

Several farmers find it difficult to burn down crop that are almost ready for harvest. But it is vital to contain the disease.

"The Agriculture department officials came and told us that if anyone eats this people can fall sick. We do not know if this is good or it is poison," said Md Abdul Bardan, a farmer.

Pointing to his ruined crop, another farmer, Gholam Khibriya, said, "Good wheat is yellow when it ripens. The diseased crop turns white and then black."

The farmers who have been hit will receive compensation, but there is a larger problem. If the outbreak is not controlled, it could spread, as it did in Brazil in 1985, when 3 million hectares of crop was affected.  Uncontrolled, this disease can cause huge damage in the other wheat producing areas.

"Wheat blast is such a disease that without burning it, we cannot grow anything there. It can damage wheat production in India also," said agriculture minister Purnendu Bose.

The state government is coordinating with the Centre in the fight against the disease. But a porous border means farmers cross over, contaminating the crops this side and the adjoining fields aid the spread.

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research has urged immediate steps to ensure the disease is contained, warning that if the disease spreads like it did in Brazil, then India's food security could be at risk.

Dr Trilochan Mohapatra, its chief, said they have asked the state government to ensure that cross-border movement from Bangladesh doesn't happen. The disease, he said, can be minimized this way as it spreads through "farmer to farmer informal exchange". The varieties of wheat from Bangladesh which are susceptible to the disease should not be grown in India, he added.


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