Crop-damaging insects currently sweeping across Asia are alarming smallholder farmers as the threaten their livelihoods, the UN food agency reported.
At the same time, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the damage can be limited.
“Fall Armyworms” (FAW) are native to the America but they have been moving eastwards since 2016, sweeping across Africa, where they caused US$1 billion to US$3 billion in damage, before arriving in Asia.
The flying insects arrived in India in July and have since spread to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and China’s Yunnan province, FAO said.
They feed mostly on maize, for which China is the world’s second-largest producer, and can feed on several species of crops, including rice and sugar cane – two of Thailand’s main commodities.
A three-day FAO meeting is being held in Bangkok, with officials from affected countries and experts discussing ways to limit Fall Armyworm infestations amid a “growing sense of alarm”.
“We 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,” Kundhavi Kadiresan, the FAO’s assistant director-general and regional representative for Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement.
“When fall armyworm made landfall in India, its arrival did not come as a complete surprise, we were not caught unaware. And that’s a good start – indeed it was a good head start,” Kadiresan said.
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.
Once an infestation is confirmed, governments are initiating efforts to continue to raise awareness and monitor the presence and spread of FAW on maize and other crops.
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, FAO said.
This is taken into consideration at the policy and field level. With these measures put in place, the negative effects of infestations can be sustainably managed and can help to maintain populations low enough to limit economic and livelihood damage.