• The Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) has sounded the alarm after the invasive agricultural pest Fall Armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) was discovered in Karnataka .
  • A major maize pest in North America, the Fall Armyworm arrived in Africa in 2016. Since then, it has threatened the continent’s maize crop, a staple which feeds 300 million people.
  • The Karnataka finding is the first report of the pest in Asia.
  • The discovery is more worrisome because the pest feeds on around 100 different crops, such as vegetables, rice, and sugarcane.
  • Initially, they suspected it was the Northern Armyworm, or Mythimna separata, a common local pest.
  • But when they examined the moth, they were able to identify it as the Fall Armyworm through its distinctive genitalia. Further confirmation came through DNA barcoding at Bengaluru’s Indian Institute of Horticultural Research.
  • The first line of defence against the Fall Armyworm will be insecticides like lambda-cyhalothrin. It’s efficacy is currently being studied in field trials. Also, the researchers have found some natural predators such as coccinellid beetles, that can aid biological control. A fungal species called Nomuraea rileyi also infects the Fall Armyworm. But these natural enemies may not be as effective as insecticides,
  •  Africa’s experience shows how quickly the pest can colonise a new continent. First reported in Central and Western Africa in 2016, it has spread to 44 African countries today and has proved hard to control.
  • In India, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are at immediate risk. And even though the pests reported in Shivamogga and Chikballapur, Karnataka, are only feeding on maize and sorghum at the moment, they are likely to spread to other crops.
  • The most popular methods of containing the pest include the use of GM crops and pesticides,  but some armyworms have developed resistance to these tactics and are continuing to blight crops.
  • The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation says it has invested more than US$9 million from its regular budget and mobilised $12 million for its fall armyworm programmes.

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