RDDI also blames farmers for lack of constant vigilance
No decision yet on compensation
By Pamodi Waravita The rice gall midge fly (gok massa) has had an increased negative impact on paddy cultivations, due primarily to the prevalent climatic and weather-related conditions which have allowed this pest to thrive, The Morning learnt. The damage has been caused in the Northern, Eastern, North Central, and Uva Provinces and has resulted in significant economic damage during this Maha season for farmers in these provinces. Speaking to The Morning, Rice Research and Development Institute (RRDI) Additional Director – Research Entomology R. Sarathchandara said that the damage due to the rice gall midge insect has been considerably higher this year when compared to that of previous years. “Due to the changing climate and weather patterns, specifically the prevailing low temperature and high humidity environment and the fact that there has been only around three hours of sunlight per day thus far during the course of this month, the rice gall midge pest has had extremely favourable conditions to thrive in the context of this Maha season,” Sarathchandara noted. The conditions are also unfavourable for both the natural predators of the rice gall midge and the sown rice fields in general, Sarathchandra added. Furthermore, Sarathchandra said that with regard to this Maha season, though the rains which usually commence in October (2020) had been delayed, the advent of monsoonal rains in January this year, which have since been consistent, has also led to these conditions that are favourable for the rice gall midge. Moreover, he noted that since farmers tend to observe their crops less during the rainy season, this time around, early identification and prevention methods had not been carried out effectively. “If the identification of this pest is done at the initial stages, there are ways of getting rid of it without resorting to the use of chemicals. But the problem remains that farmers only identified this pest once the harm caused had reached significant levels, to the point that the damage could be observed from afar,” said Sarathchandara. He warned that if the harm reaches high levels, the economic damage cannot be recovered even with the use of chemical fertilisers. Thus, he stressed that awareness among farmers, the continuous observation of the crops, and harm estimation at the early stages, are needed to reduce the economic damage to the crops. “This is also a good experience for the next Maha season as we hope farmers would observe their crops from the beginning of the season and implement proper control and prevention methods,” Sarathchandra said. According to him, the prevention methods include planting pest-resistant varieties of paddy, controlling the water levels in the field, the use of urea fertiliser only when necessary, the removal of weeds, the removal of parasitic plants, the planting of paddy during the correct season and planting at once, and the planting of paddy varieties which are suitable for the respective areas. Sarathchandara was unable to comment on the exact extent of the damage as the RRDI is still calculating the extent of the damaged land. Meanwhile, RRDI Director D.M.J.B. Senanayake told The Morning that they were conducting discussions with the Department of Agriculture on how to raise awareness among farmers about the rice gall midge. Both the Department of Agriculture and the Ministry of Agriculture were unavailable for comment on whether due compensation schemes would be implemented for farmers who have incurred heavy financial losses due to the crop damage this season.