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India’s dire need for Chilli Black Thrips control

Published 11/12/2023

Theme: Agriculture and bioprotection

Overview

The importance of chilli in India

India is the worldwide leader in the production, consumption, and export of chilli (Capsicum annuum) (ANGRAU, 2022). Indian chilli is famous for its intense flavour and colour. It accounts for 42% of all spices that are exported by the country. 

The state of Andhra Pradesh is the largest chilli producer, followed by Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and West Bengal. The Guntur Chilli Yard in Andhra Pradesh is Asia’s largest chilli market, which influences domestic and international prices.

The problem of Thrips parvispinus

In 2021 a new thrips species was found to severely damage the chilli crop in Andra Pradesh. It was identified as Thrips parvispinus, commonly called, “Chilli Black Thrips (CBT)”. It has since expanded to other states in southern India. CBT is a lacerating insect that originates from Southeast Asia. First reported in India in 2015 on Papaya, these insects lacerate the tender leaves and flowers before consuming the tissues . Lacerations, especially of the flower, impair fruit formation. Concerningly, CBT is polyphagous, i.e., it can feed on different plant species. In addition to chilli, it damages crops such as cotton, bell pepper, red and black grams, mango, watermelon, and others. 

On the left; close up of Thrips parvispinus adult female. On the right; capsicum flower with thrips feeding on it.
Left: Thrips parvispinus adult female. Credit: L.S. Osborne, University of Florida; Right: Thrips on capsicum. Credit: Metin Gulesci via Bugwood.org, CC BY 3.0

Regions most heavily affected by the outbreak

During 2022, CBT significantly damaged the chilli crop in six southern states (see map). The estimated losses in severely affected areas ranged from 85 to 100% . Its unexpected occurrence and high severity of damage left farmers with no choice but to apply chemical pesticides to protect their crops. This turned out to be a costly and fruitless exercise. Additionally, chilli damaged by the CBT fetched lower prices in the market, which pushed many farmers to the brink. 

Map of India with states most affected by T. parvispinus colored in green.
States most heavily affected by T. parvispinus highlighted in green.
Made with mapchart.net

Invasive thrips outcompetes native species  

Prior to the infestation by CBT, Chilli Thrips (CT), Scirtothrips dorsalis, was the dominant pest in southern India. However, multiple studies have shown that CBT has dominated CT during the last two years. It is unclear whether CBT has emerged due to climate change, lack of competition from other pests, lack of natural enemies, indiscriminate use of pesticides, or from a combination of these factors. Field observations and anecdotal reports suggest that several chemical molecules are ineffective in managing the CBT populations. 

Thrips are generally understood to thrive when the conditions are hot and dry. However, CBT appears to thrive even when the conditions are hot and humid. This was observed during 2022, when a few districts in Telangana received 40% more rainfall in the months of September, October and November, which coincides with the cultivation of the chilli crop. 

Control measures for thrips on chilli

The Union Agriculture Minister is calling for a shift towards Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies, in place of chemical pesticide application, to manage CBT. IPM measures for thrips include pre-emptive pest surveying, cultural practices, and, notably, increasing farmers’ access to biopesticides and biocontrol agents.  

The CABI BioProtection Portal is keen to support this call with a repertoire of biological products for managing thrips  in India. The products listed on the Portal include fungal microbials like Beauveria bassiana (Abtec Beauveria) and Lecanicillium lecanii (Biosar). 

Agricultural advisor consulting with farmer over capsicum crops
CABI plant doctor consulting with farmer about capsicum © CABI 

Not sure where to start with fungal microbials? Learn more in our beginner’s guide

To browse other products for thrips control in chilli, head over to the CABI BioProtection Portal.  

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