Shopian’s apple trees caught in ‘cocoon-like web’ of new, ‘foreign’ pest

Shopian’s apple trees caught in ‘cocoon-like web’ of new, ‘foreign’ pest

Insect first appeared at govt’s vast horticulture farm at Zainpora; scientists say import of high-density apple trees could be reason

Shopian: Kashmiris are famous for being great hosts but unfortunately they find themselves hosting a lethal insect these days – in the orchards around the Zainpora horticulture farm in Shopian district.

Apple orchards situated around the vast Zainpora farm have started getting infected after the insect surfaced on the apple trees spread over hundreds of kanals of land at Asia’s largest apple farm in Zainpora.

According to scientists, it is a new insect that has appeared in Kashmir.

Orchardists in Zainpora said that a cocoon-type insect has laid layers of white spider-like webs from one branch to another. “It also has laid layers around the trunk of trees, the pollen side of apple, and even has damaged the apple by inserting its body into the fruit,” Bashir Ahmad, an orchardist in Reshipora in Zainpora area, told Kashmir Reader.

Locals said that there are millions of such cocoon-like insects which first damaged the leaves, which not only stopped the nutrient supply to the fruit and reduced its size, but with the passage of time spread all over the trees by multiplying their population into millions.

They said that nobody is able to pick apples as the insect webs and insect bites cause allergy to human skin.

“We already sprayed three insecticides to contain this pest but all in vain. I think as the insect is new, as far as our knowledge and experience of apple farming is concerned, there isn’t any insecticide preparation available which can contain the insect from further spread,” said Zubair Ahmad whose 15 kanals of land with 2,500 boxes of apple have been affected by this pest.

Ali Muhammad Lone, an elderly farmer in Zainpora, said that locals are apprehensive about the very survival of their apple orchards because of the new pest. “We feel the insect has been brought in Kashmir through import of high-density apple varieties. Only the government can tell us from where it came,” he said.

For the past one decade, every year thousands of trees are being brought from other countries, especially Italy, to Kashmir and planted at the Zainpora farm for further growth and quarantine. This new pest is said to have emerged at this government farm.

Horticulture experts had already raised concerns about import of high-density apple plants imported from other countries which were not quarantined in Kashmir.

“For many years the government and private agencies have been importing plants which are not kept quarantined but directly distributed among farmers, which is insane and could be catastrophic for the fruit industry. The government should look seriously into this matter as half of the Kashmir economy is dependent on apple industry,” said a SKUAST scientist, wishing not to be named.

Director of Horticulture, Kashmir, Ajaz Ahmad Bhat on Tuesday visited the area and advised orchardists to not panic. He told Kashmir Reader that this insect was found in Imamsahib area of Shopian some eight years ago. “Its prime food source was rumex nepalensis plant. When people eradicated the said plant, it has attacked apple trees now,” he said.

Bhat said that the department will wipe out this pathogen from the area, provided the farmers follow the official advisory which has already been issued. “It is propaganda to declare this insect an introduction. If brought through high-density trees, why didn’t it spread in other areas of Kashmir? It is a leaf miner, nothing more,” he said while appealing to farmers to burn all grass and leaves besides spraying (Chloropyriphos 50 percent plus Cypermethrin 05 per cent) at the rate of 100 milliliters with 100 litre of water.

Khursheed Ahmad, an entomologist scientist at SKUAST, told Kashmir Reader that they have taken samples from the area and are investigating about the origin and remedies for the pest.

“It can or can’t be an introduction from some foreign country. Most of the diseases in fruit trees in Kashmir are of foreign introduction, so this pest also can be a foreign one. But it is too early to declare that it has come through high-density apple plants,” he said.

Dr Malik Mukhtar, another senior entomologist at SKUAST, said that this pest was not reported earlier in Kashmir, so it may well be new. “It is matter of investigation to categorically declare if the disease has been brought by high-density fruit tree importing,” he said.

Dr Mukhtar said that the insect has not been identified yet. “It seems it is leaf miner. We are sending a team of experts to the area tomorrow to investigate and identify the pest,” he said.

Some years ago, the horticulture department burned thousands of walnut trees in the same Zainpora farm but fortunately that time the plants were under quarantine stage and the disease was contained within the farm. If this new pest is indeed a new introduction through import of high-density trees, then it may be too late since it has spread to a large area of horticulture land outside the farm.

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