Whiteflies - Features & Threat to Indian Agriculture

Whiteflies have been a cause for direct and indirect damage of yield in agriculture, horticulture and forestry crop plants. This exotic invasive species has spread itself across India, except Jammu & Kashmir, and has become a major cause of concern for the agricultural sector of the country. 

In March 2020, the National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI), Lucknow developed a pest-resistant variety of cotton to fight against these whiteflies, as they are considered to be among the top ten devastating pests in the world. 

Apart from Whiteflies, many other animal species have been in the limelight over the past few years. To know about these Species in News, candidates can visit the linked article. 

Further below in this article, we shall discuss at length the physical and characteristic features of a Whitefly, along with the concerns regarding their spread across the country. All Government and IAS Exam aspirants must refer to the information given below for the upcoming competitive exam preparation. 

Whiteflies [UPSC Notes]:-Download PDF Here

Also, refer to the links below:

Alien Invasive Species International Day for Biological Diversity
IUCN Red List Biodiversity Hotspots in India
United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD) International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 

About Whiteflies – Characteristic Features

Whiteflies are tiny, sap-sucking insects often found on the underside of leaves. Adult whiteflies resemble small moths and the body and wings are covered in a powdery white wax. 

Mostly, this species of insect is considered to be native to the Caribbean islands or Central America. Given below are the key facts about Whitefly:


(Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/)

Order Hemiptera
Family Aleyrodidae
Physical Features
  • Small Insects, with a body length between 1 to 2 mm, and wing length of up to 3 mm 
  • Giant whitefly may even extend to the length of 5 mm

Whiteflies in India – A Brief Background

  • In India, the first invasive whitefly case was reported in Kerala in 1995
  • Another major attack was in 2015, wherein, two-third of the cotton crop was destroyed by the pest in Punjab
  • In 2016, whiteflies were observed in various coconut farms in Tamil Nadu
  • Approximately 1.35 lakh hectares of coconut and oil palm in India are affected by the rugose spiralling whitefly
  • Between 2015 and 2020, extensive research and study was done to examine the pattern of occurrence of the attack, infestation intensity and decline in the number of whiteflies in an area to overcome the loss faced due to the havoc caused by whiteflies

In 2015, after the whiteflies attack in Punjab, around 15 farmers were reported to have committed suicide due to the loss of their crops and land. Thus, this is an alarming concern for the authorities to come up with measures to prevent the spread of whiteflies. Read about the statistics of Farmer Suicides in India, at the linked article. 

Another migratory pest, Locust Swarm, has also been a cause for risk to agriculture in India. Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh are the five Indian states to have been affected by these migratory pests. Visit the linked article to know more.  

Kickstart your UPSC preparation now and complement it with the links given below:

Concerns with Whiteflies

  • Harmful Pest for Plant Species – Whiteflies are one of the top ten devastating pests in the world that damage more than 2000 plant species and also function as vectors for some 200-plant viruses
  • Damage Crops – They have the ability to expand their host range on valuable plant species and reduce the yield of a crop. This may include coconut, banana, cashew, oil palm, and important medicinal plants
  • Nature/Behaviour of Whiteflies – A recent study has noted that the host range of all of the invasive whiteflies has been increasing due to their polyphagous nature (ability to feed on various kinds of food) and prolific breeding
  • Unavailability of Insecticides – No effective insecticide is available which can easily kill the whiteflies and prevent them from harming the crops

Apart from whiteflies, many other invasive species have been detected in the country, mainly due to the increasing globalisation, import of plants and movement of people. This rising number and varieties of invasive species is a major threat to the agricultural sector of the country. 

UPSC 2021

Control & Management of Whiteflies – The Way Forward

  • Spreading Awareness – People and farmers both must be made aware of such invasive species and their harmful effects. Also, people must not indulge in the illegal or unintentional import of exotic species
  • Biological Control Methods – It has been found that synthetic insecticides are not effective on whiteflies, thus, naturally occurring insect predators, parasitoids and entomopathogenic fungi must be used to control the spread of invasive species
  • Study/Research/Monitoring must continue – A lot has been discovered about whiteflies by researchers and continued monitoring of this species may help find better cures and methods to prevent crops from the flies
  • Implementation of Stricter Phytosanitary Regulations – The state should ensure stricter phytosanitary measures at relevant places to reduce the chances of incoming exotic species
    • Phytosanitary is related to the health of plants or measures to control plant diseases, especially in agricultural crops

Earlier, to get rid of harmful insects like whiteflies, Endosulfan, an organochlorine insecticide and acaricide was used, but during the Stockholm Convention of 2011, a global ban was put on the production of this insecticide due to its toxicity. 

Read about the Stockholm Convention at the linked article. 

Whiteflies and National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI), Lucknow

To fight against whiteflies, NBRI developed a pest-resistant variety of cotton in March 2020 and its field trials were done at the Faridkot Center of Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana between April to October 2020. 

To develop the pest-resistant variety researchers explored 250 plants from lower plant biodiversity to identify novel protein molecules that are toxic to whitefly. Leaf extract of all the plants was prepared separately, and whiteflies were allowed to feed on them, and ultimately of these 250 plants, the leaf extract of an edible fern ‘Tectaria Macrodonta’ was found toxic for whiteflies.

Whiteflies [UPSC Notes]:-Download PDF Here

IAS aspirants can get the detailed UPSC Syllabus for the prelims and mains examination at the linked article and can accordingly start their exam preparation. 

Visit BYJU’S for the latest exam updates, study material and preparation tips. 

Other Related Links
IAS Salary Agriculture in India
List of Agricultural Revolutions in India Major Crops India for IAS Prelims
High Yield Crops in India – Benefits, Disadvantages RSTV The Big Picture: Does India’s Agriculture Policy need a Relook? 
Agriculture Questions for UPSC Mains Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES)
Environment Conventions and Protocols for UPSC UN-Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD)


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