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August 16, 2018

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Deadly worm rings alarm bells for key crops

LAHORE: The discovery of deadly pest ‘fall armyworm’ for the first time in Asia and not far from Pakistan has sounded alarm bells among farming community, triggering fear of extensive loss to a wide range of crops.

Fall armyworm could damage some 80 crops, including maize, rice, cotton, sugarcane, vegetables and groundnuts.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has already warned about the imminent threat from onslaught of new pest.

The fall armyworm could threaten the food security and livelihoods of millions of small-scale farmers in Asia as the invasive crop-eating pest is highly likely to spread further from India, with South East Asia and South China most at risk, FAO said in an advisory.

Recently detected in India, the insect has the capacity to fly over long distances such as 100 kilometers per night and ravage crops all year round given the region’s favourable tropical and sub-tropical climate, which means there are always crops and weeds around that fall armyworm can feed on.

FAO said it has been found first time in Asia after leaving devastating trail in Africa.

An FAO’s official said fall armyworm could have a devastating impact on Asia’s maize and rice producers “mostly small-scale farmers who depend on their crops for food and to make a living”.

“This is a threat that we cannot ignore,” Kundhavi Kadiresan, assistant director general and regional representative for Asia and the Pacific of FAO said.

In Asia, where small-scale farmers cultivate about 80 percent of the region’s farmlands, rice and maize are amongst the most produced and consumed cereals. Over 200 million hectares of maize and rice are cultivated annually in Asia.

China is the second-largest maize-producing country in the world, and over 90 percent of the world’s rice is produced and consumed in the Asia-Pacific region.

Native to the Americas, fall armyworm has already spread across Africa where it was first detected in early 2016. By early 2018, all but 10 (mostly in the north of the continent) African states and territories have reported infestations and the pest has affected millions of hectares of maize and sorghum.

FAO is offering its expertise to famers and governments in Asia who will quickly face decisions about best ways to manage the pest.

“Much of what FAO has already done in sub-Saharan Africa to help farmers and governments better monitor and mitigate fall armyworm damage can also be applied in Asia,” Hans Dreyer, director of FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division said. “This includes recommendations on pesticide management, monitoring and early warning, and a practical guide for farmers and government extension workers on how to best manage the pest.”

FAO offers its expertise to help farmers and member states in Asia to implement the ‘Fall Armyworm Monitoring and Early Warning System (FAMEWS)’ to monitor, analyse and produce early warnings, including risk to food security. It also stressed the need to produce accurate estimates of potential crop-loss, based on the FAMEWS data and estimates of yield loss due to fall armyworm.

FAO called for providing policy and technical advice about best management options for farmers, especially smallholder farmers, including on pesticide management coupled with rolling out a continent-wide programme of farmer education and communication, based on training guides and materials, including locally adapted versions of the Fall Armyworm Farmer Field School Guide and other guidance material produced by FAO.

The world farm body also underscored the need to maintain technical backstopping and coordination efforts at country, sub-regional, regional and global level in order to continue enabling member countries, farmers’ organisations and individual farmers to manage the pest.

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