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July 08, 2008

New cotton varieties being tried in Uganda

Scientists have developed new cotton varieties to tame jassids, the notorious cotton pest which has been causing havoc in the 35 cotton growing districts of Uganda.

Dr George Epieru, an insect expert at the National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute in Soroti district, says the new cotton varieties have a hairy surface.

"Jassids lay eggs on rolled cotton leaves. This is exactly what we have deprived it of in our cotton research," Epieru says. He says they are insects that feed on cotton leaves. Their colour ranges from green, yellow-green to brown.

The insects cause cotton leaves to curl at the edges, turning yellow or redish and may dry in severe cases. The pests may lead to stunted growth and can reduce yields by up to 80% in severe cases.

"We have profiled over 10 common pests," Epieru says. He advised farmers to contact the National Agricultural Research Organisation and agricultural development centres for information on controlling jassids.

Other common cotton pests include aphids. These suck sap from the leaves and shoots, causing them to droop and curl downwards.

There is also the spiny bollworms, which bore into shoot tips, causing stunted growth. However, the plant may produce new shoots, reducing the effect of the bollworms.

Others are the pink bollworm larvae and the cotton stainers, which pierce cotton, causing premature boll-splitting and allowing fungi to stain lint. Damaged young fruits usually fall off the plant, while older ones reduce in size.

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