Averting wheat blast by implementing a 'wheat holiday': In search of alternative crops in West Bengal, India.
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The emergence of wheat-blast in Bangladesh in the 2015-16 wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) crop threatens the food security of South Asia. A potential spread of the disease from Bangladesh to India could have devastating impacts on India's overall food security as wheat is its second most important staple food crop. West Bengal state in eastern India shares a 2,217 km-long border with Bangladesh and has a similar agro-ecology, enhancing the prospects of the disease entering India via West Bengal. The present study explores the possibility of a 'wheat holiday' policy in the nine border districts of West Bengal. Under the policy, farmers in these districts would stop wheat cultivation for at least two years. The present scoping study assesses the potential economic feasibility of alternative crops to wheat. Of the ten crops considered, maize, gram (chickpea), urad (black gram), rapeseed and mustard, and potatoes are found to be potentially feasible alternative crops. Any crop substitution would need support to ease the transition including addressing the challenges related to the management of alternative crops, ensuring adequate crop combinations and value chain development. Still, as wheat is a major staple, there is some urgency to support further research on disease epidemiology and forecasting, as well as the development and dissemination of blast-resistant wheat varieties across South Asia.
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