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August 15, 2020

Maize crop comes under deadly pest attack

Business

August 15, 2020

LAHORE: Maize crop is reeling under a deadly pest attack while locust outbreak already poses challenges to the country’s agriculture sector as a whole, officials said on Friday.

The attack of fall armyworm (FAW) has been observed first time in patches on maize crop in the country, ringing alarm bells about potential threat to productivity of agriculture sector.

“This worrying development has alerted farmers and other stakeholders about the potential damage to productivity of maize crop, which is an important grain and forage crop,” said a senior official.

“Extension wing of Punjab agriculture department confirmed attack of fall armyworm in different districts. We are pursuing onslaught of this new pest and pest warning and extension wings are working on various ways and means to curb its adverse effects.” The official said the planning about counter measures were needed to control spread of the invasive pest. “FAW is no doubt a huge threat to crops and could spell catastrophe if not controlled properly at initial stage.”

Corn breeder Shafiqur Rehman said attack of FAW had been seen in patches in several eastern border districts of Punjab. Farmers are effectively facing this challenge by using potent pesticides, he said.

“As per initial reports, attack of FAW has not been proved deadly as far as productivity of corn is concerned,” said Rehman, who was president of Seed Association of Pakistan. “As significant area under maize has been in cotton zone farmers are familiar with using pesticides to neutralise threat of pests.”

Before invasion into Pakistan, FAW’s gradual spread has been seen in South Asia, including in Sri Lanka, Nepal and India during last couple of years. The presence of fall armyworm outside of the Americas is definitely a big cause of concern for farmers throughout in Asia, Africa and Europe.

Its spread has earlier been seen in Africa, primarily feeding on corn. However, it is spreading its tentacles to other crops, including cotton, soybeans and tobacco. The invasive insect-pest was first spotted in Africa in 2016 and first time in India in 2018.

The FAW is highly mobile as it spreads like a wild fire. According to a report, adult moths can travel vast distances, migrating around 500km before laying eggs.

The presence of FAW in bordering states of India in 2019 and 2020 have now made it certain that this menace would likely to make broad inroad into Punjab’s main maize growing areas. The infestation of fall army worm has already being reported in Rajasthan and Punjab states of India.

In a district of Rajasthan alone, it has been reported that the FAW attacked almost a fourth of area under maize this year. It is not just Rajasthan, FAW, which first surfaced in kharif in 2018 in Karnataka, is a threat to other maize-growing states like Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

Scientists of Punjab Agricultural University in India cautioned the farmers about couple of months back against fall armyworm attack on maize crop over 400,000 acres in Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Ropar, Pathankot, Patiala and Fatehgarh Sahib districts, according to another report.

Rehman said fall armyworm attack was observed in Kasur area. “It may be a new challenge for the farmers and other stakeholders in agriculture as it is a very devastating insect,” he said.