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India: Fall Armyworm attack: The damage done

Source(s):  Down To Earth

By Akshit Sangomla and Ishan Kukreti


In January 2019, Chhattisgarh became the latest state to report the infestation of Fall Armyworm (FAW). As Down To Earth (DTE) reporter travelled across Bastar, a district ravaged by the decades old bloodbath between the Maoists and the security forces, the insect emerged as the focal point of most conversations. In Palari village, the American keeda has damaged the entire maize crop. “I have been farming for four to five years, but have never noticed this insect. Pesticides are not effective on them,” says Parmeshwar Pandey.

In just nine months since FAW was spotted in India in Karnataka last June, it has invaded crops in over 10 states. As if taking a pre-scripted route, FAW infestation has spread from Karnataka to all southern states; then to western Maharashtra and Gujarat; and now to eastern states. Besides advancing fast, the pest is also attacking new crops. Though it is being detected mostly in maize crops—a preliminary calculation estimates it has affected nearly 170,000 hectares (ha) of maize crops—there have been reports from states where it has infested paddy, sugarcane and sweet corn. Maize is the third most important cereal crop in India after rice and wheat. It accounts for 9 per cent of the total food grain production in the country.


Malvika Chaudhary from the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) says, “Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are currently witnessing greater infestation. But taking into account environmental conditions and availability of host species the eastern side of India is more vulnerable to the pest in the near future.” Her forecast is already showing signs of coming true. During kharif 2018, the central government sent an alert to the agriculture department in Odisha saying that maize cultivation in some states had been attacked by FAW and the department needed to undertake a survey in maize-growing districts in the state. The Odisha government formed a committee under the chairmanship of agriculture director M Muthukumar to check the worm's spread. “The committee has taken a decision to regularly monitor and supervise the maize growing districts of the state and to create awareness among field level officials and farmers about the pest,” says Muthukumar.


Climate change might also be playing a role in the increased risk from FAW. “Under the global warming scenario in India FAW is going to feed more. This will lead to more generations of the insect and early completion of its lifecycle,” says [AK Chakravarthy, former head of entomology at the Indian Institute of Horticultural Research (IIHR)]. The pertinent question is if this notorious pest can be brought under control? Experts feel that this can be done through early detection and subsequent pest management. The Plantix app is helping out farmers all over India with the early detection part. The app gets its inputs from the farmers through photographs of the infestation from the field. Then it uses image recognition and analysis carried out by an artificial intelligence machine to identify the pest correctly. It tells the farmer if the pest that she is looking at is FAW or not. And even if it is not able to give this exact information it gives a list of possible pests which then can be confirmed by a local expert. “Around 6,500 farmers have approached us with photographs through the app and in 90 per cent of the cases we have been able to inform them correctly about the pest,” says Korbinian Hartberger, co-founder of Progressive Environmental and Agricultural Technologies.


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  • Publication date 05 Mar 2019

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