23) ICRISAT symposium to reduce farmers’ losses due to insect pests

In the wake of huge crop losses of over $10 billion due to insect pests, ICRISAT calls for a critical look into the ‘insecticide treadmill’ to save crops and the environment.

Coinciding with the 29th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Environmental Biology, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is organizing a symposium on Biosafety and environmental impact of genetically modified organisms and conventional technologies for pest management, on 20 and 21 November at Patancheru.

Over 100 eminent scientists from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, and the Department of Biotechnology will take part in this symposium.

Stressing the need to reduce pest-induced losses, Dr William D Dar, Director General of ICRISAT says, “The world needs to develop innovative techniques to address the most complex challenge to global food production. My reference here is the US$10 billion annual losses caused by insect pests, which are expected to change in unpredictable ways due to intensification of agriculture and climate change.”

Dr Dar further said that crop production is constantly threatened by insect pests, which prevent poor farmers from earning better. As a result of overdependence on insecticides, an ‘insecticide treadmill’ situation has arisen due to the poor choice of insecticides, poor application equipment, and pest resistance to insecticides.

Apart from huge economic costs, indirect costs such as the deleterious effects of pesticides on the environment and human health are becoming increasingly severe all over the world, calling for appropriate technologies and guidelines for their judicious application.

According to Dr Dar, the outcomes of the symposium will be useful to researchers, research planners and regulatory agencies for developing environment-friendly strategies for pest management.

Significant progress has been made over the past three decades in the production and deployment of transgenic crops resistant to insects in several countries. In India, the introduction of BT cotton has more than doubled production in the last five years.

Genetic engineering is an environment-friendly method which has resulted in a drastic reduction in pesticide sprays and increased crop production. Along with this, transgenic crops have been subjected to a rigorous assessment of their bio-safety to human beings and the environment.

Therefore, the need of the hour is to compare the protocols used for assessing the efficacy, biosafety and environmental impact of various pest management technologies to make informed decisions on pest management.

Dr Hari Sharma, Principal Entomologist at ICRISAT and the President of International Congress of Entomology says, “ICRISAT has been in the forefront of developing environment-friendly technologies for pest control through the use of insect-resistant varieties derived through conventional methods. ICRISAT is also involved in evaluating the potential of transgenic crops for pest management, and assessing their biosafety to the non-target organisms in the environment.”

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