March 21, 2019: United Nations’ Food Agency has warned that a crop-guzzling insect, which has moved from its native Americas to Asia, threatens to cost farmers from India to Thailand billions of dollars in lost production.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has convened a three-day meeting of international experts in Bangkok and officials from affected countries.
Kundhavi Kadiresan, Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific, said nations need to work together because this is a pest that has no respect for international boundaries, threatens our food security, our economies, domestic and international trade.
A UN release said, Fall armyworms (FAW) have been moving steadily east since 2016 and caused up to 3 billion US dollars worth of damage to crops across Africa.
The insect lays eggs which develop fast into grubs, which can devastate crops such as maize, rice and sugarcane, overnight.
India began to suffer the effects of the flying invaders in July, and the insects have now reached Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and China’s Yunnan province.
In the case of Sri Lanka, there were reports that up to 40,000 hectares had been infested, damaging some 20 per cent of its crops.
China is the biggest maize producer in Asia, and second largest producer globally.
The Plant Protection Commission for Asia and the Pacific began raising awareness about the threat early last year, sharing key information on the pest, its spread towards Asia, and how to manage it sustainably in case of infestation.
The FAO has been working with the relevant authorities to initiate awareness programmes that inform and train farmers on integrated pest management techniques. These include identifying natural enemies of the Fall Armyworm, enhancing natural biological controls and mechanical controls, such as crushing egg masses and employing the use of biopesticides.
The use of chemical pesticides needs to be very carefully considered, given that FAW larvae hide largely in the ring of leaves (whorl), and that chemical pesticides can have negative effects on the environment and public health.