Pulwama, September 22: A crisis of monumental proportions has unfolded in the Litter area of Pulwama district. The menacing rice blast disease has descended upon this area, leaving local farmers in the throes of despair and casting a long shadow over the region’s food security.
Sher Khan, a 35-year-old resident of Niloora village within the Litter area, stands amidst his paddy fields, his face etched with worry. He gazes upon his once-prolific four kanal paddy field, now offering little hope of producing even a few kilograms of rice. Sher Khan isn’t alone; approximately 20 farmers in his village share the same heart-wrenching problem as the rice burst has struck their paddies hard.
Sher Khan’s voice quivers as he says, “My family is in tears, unable to sleep at night, discussing what we will eat this year. Our entire area depends on agriculture, particularly paddy.”
The rice blast; a destructive fungal disease that affects rice crops by a fungus called Magnaporthe oryzae leading to reduced yields and crop losses has cast its dark shadow over a cluster of villages within the Litter area, including Niloora, Herpora, Zahid Bagh, and Rajpora. It has left hundreds of paddy farmers distraught and uncertain about their future.
Manzoor Ahmad Bakal, another farmer in this troubled region, shares his predicament, saying, “I don’t have much income to buy rice. All the land I have is for paddy cultivation, and throughout the year, my family relies on it for meals. This year, it will be extremely challenging for me to provide for my family.”
Ali Mohd, a local resident of Litter tehsil, expresses hope that the government will provide some form of compensation. He reveals that almost 40 percent of the crop is now damaged, a devastating blow, especially since it’s at the harvesting stage, making it impossible to salvage.
Muhammad Iqbal, the Chief Agriculture Officer of Pulwama, acknowledges the severity of the situation, stating, “The disease has reached a stage where it cannot be prevented. We have already dispatched a team to assess the extent of the loss.” So far, it can be estimated that around 40 kanals of farmland have been affected. However, he mentions that they are still awaiting the final report to provide a more accurate assessment of the damage caused by the rice blast disease.
The authorities had previously encouraged farmers to insure their crops under the Pradhanmantri Fasal Beema Yojna (PMBY), a government-sponsored insurance scheme rolled out in 2016-2017. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of farmers opted for this insurance, leaving many vulnerable to the current crisis.
Iqbal also advises farmers not to use seeds from the affected crop for the next farming season to prevent the disease from spreading further.
The affected farmers are now looking to the government for support and compensation as they face the harsh reality of a dwindling rice harvest, with their livelihoods and food security hanging in the balance.