USDA warns against spread of the plant-eating caterpillar in China, the pest also spotted in many other countries in Asia
Within five months of the detection of a plant-eating pest in Bangladesh, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN FAO) has come up with an emergency project to contain possible spread of the Fall Armyworm (FAW).
Bangladesh received the $350,000 FAO support in mid-May in the form of a FAW emergency technical capacity project at a time when the pest has been spotted in many other Asian countries with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) raising alert against its spread across all over China.
The Fall Armyworm, which can travel up to 100 kilometers per night, currently impacts about 8,500 hectares of grain production in Yunnan, Guangxi, Guangdong, Guizhou, Hunan and Hainan provinces, the USDA said last week.
Officials in Dhaka said the one-year emergency project on FAW aims to contribute to the protection of livelihoods and food security of the agricultural farmers, agri-entrepreneurs and contract growers, who are living in the Fall Armyworm affected areas and developing capacities of main stakeholders in awareness, surveillance, monitoring and integrated management of the FAW.
The Fall Armyworm, a native pest of America, is one of the most important insect affecting more than 80 plant species, causing major damage to economically important cultivated crops such as maize, rice, sorghum and sugarcane as well as other crops including cabbage, beet, peanut, soybean, alfalfa, onion, cotton, pasture grasses, millet, tomato, potato and cotton.
FAW, a tiny caterpillar, hitherto alien to Asia, has invaded thousands of hectares of cornfields—in Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Yemen, and China—in its first outbreak on the continent; triggering a high alert about future food security.
Two years ago, Rwanda had to deploy its defence force to fight an army of the deadly pest—Fall Armyworm (FAW)—alongside farmers, to protect crops. This year, Sri Lanka has lost a fifth of its maize production to invading FAW.
With the UN FAO taking the lead in uniting the affected Asian countries against this cereal killer plant pest, the government of Bangladesh has also rolled out an emergency contingency plan to contain the dangerous leaf-eaters.
Five months since it was first spotted in Bangladesh, FAW infestations have been spotted in a fourth of the country’s 64 districts but at a limited scale. Farm officials fear a nationwide spread in the coming summer, especially in maize growing zones, unless the pest is contained.
Officials confirmed to the Dhaka Tribune that FAW was spotted feasting on maize and cabbage leaves in some northern districts, but it has since being tackled through combined applications of bio-pesticides and sex pheromone traps.
In just nine months since FAW was first spotted in Karnataka, in June last year, it has invaded crops in more than 10 Indian states and affected nearly 1.7 lakh hectares of maize crops.
USDA said, “Officially, Chinese authorities have employed an emergency action plan to monitor and respond to the pest. The Fall Armyworm has no natural predators in China and its presence may result in lower production and crop quality of corn, rice, wheat, sorghum, sugarcane, cotton, soybeans and peanuts, among other cash crops.”
“It is important to note that most farmers in China do not have the financial resources and training needed to effectively manage Fall Armyworm,” the USDA said. “Even if a mitigation program is employed, costly control measures (mainly chemical sprays) will drag producer margins into negative territory for farmers of most crops that could be affected.”
China is the second largest producer of corn after the United States and is forecast to produce 257.3 million tonnes of corn in 2018-19, according to the USDA.