The tea mosquito bug is threatening survival of tea plantations in the country. Considered a wet weather pest, the bug was earlier restricted to tea plantations in low elevation areas only. But having spread alarmingly to the high elevation plantations now, the pest is causing severe damage to tea production even as the cost of inputs remains high, threatening the sustainability of the industry.

Helopeltis theivora or the tea mosquito bug (TMB) is a major sucking pest of tea (Camellia sinensis L.) in most tea-producing countries. 

The nymphs and adults of the TMB suck the sap from tender leaves, buds and young shoots, which results in heavy crop losses. The damage to tea plants caused by the TMB is not limited to the sucking of plant in most tea-producing countries. The nymphs and adults of the TMB suck the sap from tender leaves, buds and young shoots, which results in heavy crop losses.

The damage to tea plants caused by the TMB is not limited to the sucking of plant materials and extra-oral digestion by salivation. Damage is also caused by the insertion of eggs into plant tissues during oviposition. More than a dozen alternate host plants and only a few natural enemies of the TMB have been recorded. 

United Planters Association of South India (UPASI), the planter’s body of South India, has urged the Central and State Governments for immediate intervention to protect the ailing industry with effective control strategies for TMB.

It has requested Government’s immediate intervention in taking appropriate steps to control the Tea Mosquito Bug (Helopeltis theivora) (TMB) problem in the tea plantations of India.  

Jeffry Rebello, President-UPASI, says India has the second largest area under tea in the world with around 6.37 lakhs hectares. The tea area in North India is 5.36 lakhs hectares while South India has an area of 1.01 lakh hectares. Currently, small tea growers contribute 52 percent of India’s tea production with around 2.10 lakh growers spread across West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. 

“The severe infestation of TMB seems to be threatening the very existence of the tea industry in both South and North India,” he says.

The extent of damage can be seen from the steep decline in tea production in the Valparai tea region in South India from 30 in the year 2009-2010 to 16.73 in 2021-2022. The decline is almost 50 percent in Valparai region alone. As TMB is spreading rapidly to other tea districts, it may result in heavy crop loss in all the tea districts of South India. 

Furthermore, the affected tea estates are spending more than Rs 12,000 per hectare on pesticide application every year, however, the control is very poor due to lack of effective molecules available to control this pest. 

After the formation of PPC (Plant Protection Code) of Tea Board of India during 2014 many pesticides were removed from the approved list of PPC in order to produce Indian tea safe and free from any harmful pesticides. Currently in the recent PPC version of 14, only seven pesticides are approved for use in South India. Due to limited choice of pesticides, tea growers are not able to achieve effective control of TMB, with spraying involving cost of materials and workers. One possible reason could be resistance build up in the population of TMB, in spite of several rounds of application of these pesticides. 

Entomologists of UPASI Tea Research Foundation have been evaluating several pesticides that are available in the Indian market and approved by the Central Insecticide Board & Registration Committee (CIB & RC) in other crops cultivated in India.   These pesticides are also approved for use by the European Union and have MRLs (Minimum Residue Levels) for Tea. 

 UPASI has been representing to the Government for approval to use these chemicals in the tea plantations.  

UPASI had recently organized a stakeholder meeting on 25th March 2023 at Coimbatore to address the problem.

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 Representatives from Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Tea Board of India, members of UPASI, agrochemical industries and scientists from Tea Research Institutes and plantation companies deliberated the matter in detail.

While an integrated approach on pest management with biological, chemical and cultural control is the long-term strategy to be adopted, approval and extension of label claim for some effective molecules has to be considered immediately. Combined efforts in research with the help of National Institutes such as National Bureau of Agricultural Insect Resources (NBAIR) and Indian Institute of Horticultural Research (IIHR), Bangalore was suggested to address pest problems faced by the tea.

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