BENGALURU: A voluntary community effort has started in Bengaluru to save and protect neem trees from the deadly Dieback disease.Neem is considered a miracle species, which can alleviate major global problems like pollution, deforestation, soil erosion and rising temperatures. And scientists say its large-scale conservation can benefit every person on this planet. However, in the last few months, the neem species has fallen prey to this disease in a few pockets of Karnataka.
A group of environmentalists from the city launched a programme in Kanakapura taluk and saved at least 15 trees in Harohalli and other villages. To bring in awareness about this problem in the rural areas, this group imparted knowledge to the local people on the methods to save these precious species. The past few months, volunteers have been treating affected neem trees in Bengaluru, Ramohalli, Nelamangala and other areas and have saved hundreds of trees on major highways and roads bordering villages.
Research studies have revealed high incidence of Dieback disease in most places of Karnataka. The symptoms are clearly visible with the twigs or flowers undergoing blight or its fruits rotting completely. However, it is an endemic pest and is found in pockets, says Dr Rajendra Hedge, agricultural entomologist and Trustee, Garden City Farmers Trust.
He adds, “This is primarily a shot hole borer disease (a major pest) where insects bore tiny holes in the branches and stem portion and later, the holes become the entry point for fungus. If not treated in early stages, it causes death of the trees.”
Environmental experts say that species of all age and size may suffer from this problem. Neem is an evergreen deciduous tree that is known to solve global environmental problems but is itself not free from microbial diseases. The disease spreads at an alarming rate and needs to be controlled very fast. In severely affected trees, there is 100 per cent loss of fruit production.
Vijay Nishanth, Project Vruksha.com, adds, “We have taken the campaign to a few villages in Kanakapura taluk and managed to save a number of trees this time. Recently, in a camp held by Tree Life Adventure, people came forward to participate in the campaign. We have shown how locally available medicines can be used for treating the disease. In fact, Sampath Kumar, a local resident, has assured us he would join hands to bring in awareness in this part of the state.”
It is very difficult to manage this problem and can only be tackled in the early stages when it starts from the branches, explains Dr Rajendra Hegde. “The main stem should be protected for the tree to survive. One can go in for stem injections or root feeding where it is dipped in insecticide solution so that the insects are killed. Nowadays, people have started noticing this problem which has existed for long. However, it can be tackled by an integrated community effort.”
Deadly Dieback disease
Dieback or Phytophthora Dieback refers to the deadly plant disease caused by Phytophthora cinnamomi (meaning plant destroyer in Greek), a soil-borne water mould that produces an infection which causes a condition in plants called “root rot” or “dieback”.