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Controlling the virus

Miguel Braganza


The mosaic designs that one can see on the leaves of the ladyfinger (bhendde) and cowpea or ‘alsandde’ this season may be a pretty sight for the passerby but they are a warning sign to the knowledgeable farmer.It is a clear sign that the plant is infected by a virus and is now diseased. The crop yield is reduced by the virus and the seeds cannot be used afresh because the virus is lying dormant in it, and will attack it when there is a new crop being raised in the field.

The Bhendi Yellow Vein Mosaic Virus or BYVMV was first reported in India soon after World War-1. It is an obligate parasite that lives in the host plant or the insect vector. It is a Gemini virus, so named after the zodiac sign of the twins, that is transmitted by white flies. In recent years the ash white fly has reached epidemic proportions in Goa. The tobacco white fly, bemisia tabaci, may also be lurking around. It is the insect vector for the BYVMV. Its control is of prime importance.

The good news is that a person who is well-versed with virus management will soon return to his native soil to head the only degree college of agriculture we have in Goa.

Further, down in St Estevao, Nestor Rangel and the Ilha Verde Farmers Club are expanding the land under crops and a virus-free ‘sath xiramcho bhenddo’ could well be their mascot. It is symbolic of the ‘Juemkars’ of St Estevao. It is also a favourite vegetable of the people in Goa and the local variety fetches premium prices. In the early 1990s, Sheela Kumar (now Tiwari) had helped me multiply the seeds of this variety at Ela Farm for sale to farmers and hobby growers. Last year, Nevil Alphonso has multiplied the seed at the Government Farm, Margao. This year, seed technologist Jovita Siqueira, assisted by Swati Hiremath, is adding strength to it at the Don Bosco College of Agriculture in Sulcorna, by the rigorous exercise of ‘rogueing’, or removal and destruction of all diseased plants, in the plot. However, one will need the eagle eye of a plant virologist like Suresh Kunkalikar to eliminate all other disease-causing factors including alternate hosts for the virus. It will have biotechnology laboratory support from Deepashree Naik for sure. Entomologist Rajan Shelke is already on location to control the insect vectors that transmit the virus.

There is also a need to breed resistance in the ‘sath xiramcho bhenddo’ as it will not be possible to eradicate white flies. That is why we need to have an institution that works as a T.E.A.M. … for Together Everyone Achieves More!

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