india

Armyworms march on…

Farmers in India are facing a new problem – the invasion of the fall armyworm. In the larval stage, the fall armyworm or
Spodoptera frugiperda
causes significant damage to crops, feeding on more than 80 plant species. The insect has the potential to spread quickly. In less than six months of setting foot in India, it has invaded many states, including Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Gujarat. Earlier, the armyworm wreaked havoc in Africa, causing huge losses to staple cereals, especially maize and sorghum, affecting the continent’s food security and trade.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has warned that the insect could threaten the food security and livelihoods of millions of small-scale farmers in Asia.

Let’s find out more about the insect and its invasive nature in this Five Ws & One H.

WHATis a fall armyworm?

The fall armyworm moth is an insect native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas. It is the larva of the fall armyworm moth that causes trouble to farmers. The larva goes through six stages (instars), each varying slightly in physical appearance. The first larval instar is light-coloured with a larger head. As it develops, it becomes browner with white lengthwise lines. It also develops dark spots with spines. The appetite also varies with each instar progressively. The mature caterpillar is the most destructive as it develops biting mouth parts and a greater appetite. Armyworms earned their common name by eating all plant matter they encounter in their wide dispersals, like a large army. Maize is their favourite, but they can also feed on rice, sorghum, millet, sugarcane, vegetable crops and cotton.

WHEREdid they come from?

The fall armyworms are native to the Americas and are widely distributed in eastern and central North America and in South America. The worm was first officially reported in Nigeria, West Africa, in 2016, and it rapidly spread to 44 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In India, it was first detected in Karnataka in May this year. The fall armyworm has already spread as far as West Bengal and Gujarat.

WHATare invasive species?

Invasive species are organisms that migrate to or are introduced to a new geographical location, where they pose a threat to the environment, economy, wildlife and public health. They could be insects, plants, animals, or viruses. Invasive species grow and multiply quickly in the absence of their natural predators.

WHYis the armyworm a threat?

Due to its rapid spread and distinctive ability to inflict widespread damage across multiple crops, the fall armyworm poses a serious threat to the food and nutrition security and livelihoods of millions of farming households.

• The fall armyworm is a polyphagous pest, eating a wide range of plant species.

• The moth can fly 100 km a night and hence spread quickly from one place to another.

• The female lays hundreds of eggs

• They could chomp through crops year-round, given India’s favourable climate – tropical and sub-tropical.

• Rising trade between countries mean that the worm could spread further. They can hitch a ride on the containers or crops that are transported between countries.

HOWcould it have entered India?

The pest might have hitched a ride in cargo containers on commercial aircraft or on crop shipments into India. In 2018 alone, India imported 500 million tonnes of maize, according to a report. They may also have travelled from an affected country to India by attaching themselves to someone’s cabin baggage.

WHATcan the government do about it?

• The government should take measures to prevent the pest from spreading to other States by imposing restrictions on the movement of plant material from affected regions.

• The Directorate of Plant Protection, Quarantine and Storage has called for extensive surveys to track and check the pest’s spread. It has also suggested a parasitoid that could be released to kill the eggs of the caterpillar. It has also suggested pesticides against the armyworm.

• Imports of grains and plants that can host such insects are to be inspected at shipping ports, airports and land border crossings.

• Farmers should be trained to identify the pest and suggested direct action to manage the pest in an integrated, ecological and sustainable way.




What can the government do about it?

• The government should take measures to prevent the pest from spreading to other States by imposing restrictions on the movement of plant material from affected regions.

• The Directorate of Plant Protection, Quarantine and Storage has called for extensive surveys to track and check the pest’s spread. It has also suggested a parasitoid that could be released to kill the eggs of the caterpillar. It has also suggested pesticides against the armyworm.

• Imports of grains and plants that can host such insects are to be inspected at shipping ports, airports and land border crossings.

• Farmers should be trained to identify the pests and suggested direct action to manage the pest in an integrated, ecological and sustainable way.

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