Cola ?pesticide? for Andhra cotton farmers

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By G.S. RADHAKRISHNA in Hyderabad
  • Published 6.11.04

Hyderabad, Nov. 6: Kill them with colas.

N. Hanumayya believes he has found the magic formula to rid his cotton plants of pests that made his life miserable. The 50-year-old is one of the 100-odd cotton farmers of Dachepalli and Veerapuram who have sprayed Coke to protect their crop against the ravaging insects.

Its rich black soil watered by the Krishna, Dachepalli is a prosperous village in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh, some 260 km from state capital Hyderabad. Besides its cotton and chilli farms, the area is also known for rich deposits of limestone and attracts several cement factories.

Hanumayya had sown cottonseeds in 15 acres of land. As the crop entered its 50th day in the last week of August, the pests attacked his farm.

The farmer tried all the pesticides ? Nuvocron, Avant and Tricer ? but they all proved ineffective as ravaging hordes began to devour the crop. He consulted local agricultural scientists and they advised spraying a mix of jaggery and gingelly oil with pesticides to make the antidote more potent.

?But jaggery is very costly in the local market and so is gingelly oil. Jaggery costs almost Rs 22 a kg and gingelly oil Rs 45 a litre,? he says. The farmers then stuck gold with sugar syrup, which led them to the colas.

?The colas have all the elements we were looking for. They are cheaper than jaggery and gingelly oil, sticky and fizzy, and numbed the pests. The sweetness attracted ants which devoured the larvae of the pests,? says Hanumayya.

The farmer used Coke, Pepsi and Thums Up. ?We found that Pepsi, Coke and Thums Up all had uniform effect on the pests. The pests became numb after tasting the concoction and fell to ground,? he says. Soon other farmers of Dachepalli and Veerapuram followed suit.

The desi experiment brought a windfall for local cola dealer Mantan Wali. ?For 10 days in August and September, I had booming business. Instead of just 30 cases of cola, I started selling almost 200 cases every day,? says Wali.

Thirty-five-year-old Venkateswarlu of Gamalapadu village is another farmer who has tried a combination of Pepsi with the pesticide Avant. ?The crop was relieved of pests,? he says.

Now rains and chilly winds have stopped the spray of pesticides in cotton fields along the Hyderabad-Addanki state highway. The farmers have completed their first picking of cotton and are waiting for one more round.

?The pests will not attack the plant when the weather is chilly or it is raining. They surface and thrive in warm conditions,? says Shekar, another farmer.

C.A.S. Jeevan, the agricultural officer of Dachepalli, says farmers have also experimented by spraying sugar syrup and soap water on the plants. ?In some places, they sprayed a mix Nuvocron pesticide with jaggery water and rice bran as well,? Jeevan says.

The official says the cola-pesticide mix was sent to the Regional Agri Research Station near Guntur for testing. Thirupathi Reddy, an assistant director at the Research station, says their tests and trials proved negative.

?We conducted some trials of our own on cotton crop at our research station. There was no boosting of productivity or eradication of pests,? he says.

But inspired by their experiment on cotton, the farmers of Guntur, Khammam and Krishna districts have also tried the new concoction on chilli and tobacco crops.

M.S. Chari, pest management adviser to the Centre for World Solidarity, a non-government organisation, says the farmers are desperate. ?After spending an average of Rs 12,000 per acre on cash crops, they are desperate to save their produce. So they try everything to save their crop,? says the scientist.

The experiments were also inspired by reports from a Delhi-based NGO, the Centre for Science and Environment, that Coke had pesticide residues.

?Since it is made from ground water the pesticide residue is possible. The ground water in the state has pesticide content in view of the heavy pesticides used in our crops,? Chari says.