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article imagePlague in potato field, farmer hangs himself

By Carolyn E. Price     Feb 20, 2007 in Environment
In Bengal, India, a disease that destroys acres of potato in a matter of days has claimed its first human victim.
A disease that destroys acres of potatoes in a matter of days has claimed its first human victim. This year's blight that is striking Bengal potato farmers is being blamed on an unusual late-winter rain.
Sheikh Karim, returned home a broken man yesterday after discovering that most of the potatoes on his 5-acre plot had been destroyed by the blight. He was so despondent that he killed himself. Karim, 55, owed Rs 30,000 to traders for seeds, fertilizers and pesticides.
"I don't know how the farmers will cope with the damage to the potato crop this year. Nearly 50 per cent of the crop has been affected", said Sikumar Ghosh, the district's principal agriculture officer.
Blight is the deadliest fungal infection in potatoes. It was worse this year because of heavy rains that occurred earlier in February. When the weather is humid and rainy, potato plants lose their immunity against the blight fungus and the disease can go on to destroy an entire field of crops in five days.
"We have told the farmers repeatedly not to grow only potato on their land but they wouldn’t listen,"”an agriculture official said. "About Rs 8,000 spent on potato cultivation can bring a profit of over Rs 20,000," the official added.
"The blight has damaged potato crop on over 61,700 acres. We fear the farmers will lose about 75 per cent of the crop," said Rajat Pal, principal agriculture officer, Hooghly.
Karim's son Mantu, 24, who helped his father in the fields, said: "My father was devastated yesterday morning after he found that dhosha (the local name for blight) had ravaged most of his crop." The farmer inspected his field of crops till around 3 pm and then walked towards his house without telling his son where he was going. His wife Saira Bibi was not at home. Karim went into the cowshed, bolted the door and hanged himself from a hook.
"When I returned home in the evening, I called my father but there was no response. I started searching for him. Neighbours found him in the shed," Mantu said.
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