Fall Armyworm: A new, unwelcome visitorPriority 1


Mains Paper 3: Agriculture| Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Fall Armyworm

Mains level: Challenges associated with Pest Control



  • Fall armyworm, first detected in maize fields in India last year, can wreak havoc across crops without timely government action.
  • Its moths were totally different from oriental armyworm.
  • This pest was known to strike once every 10-12 years.

Fall Armyworm

  • Native to the Americas, FAW has, since 2016, been aggressively moving eastwards, infesting Africa and making landfall in India last summer.
  • It propagates similar to an army that “marches” slowly forward and consumes any foliage on the way.
  • Unlike oriental armyworm, FAW isn’t a cyclical pest that comes intermittently.
  • Instead, it is a continuous pest that is nearly always present and can build permanent populations.
  • Not only is it a far more serious threat, but the measures to control the pest are also ad hoc.
  • Within India, FAW attacks have already been reported from even Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal, while causing damage to the maize, jowar (sorghum) and, to a limited extent, sugarcane crops in these states.

Why FAW are more dangerous?

  • Both oriental armyworm and FAW are polyphagous; their larvae feed on a range of host crop plants.
  • The former, though, does not spread very fast, which is why the damage from it in 2017 and even 2018 was largely confined to Karnataka.
  • The adult FAW moth, in contrast, can fly up to 100 km distance every night, allowing it to invade new geographies very quickly.
  • Besides, an adult female can lay 1,500-2,000 eggs during her entire life cycle of 45 days, as against 100-200 eggs by the oriental armyworm.

How to identify them?

  • Pheromones are natural compounds emitted by female FAW moths to attract males for mating.
  • Pheromone traps basically use synthetic versions of these compounds to attract and catch male moths, which can, then, be counted to detect any significant FAW presence.

Worst is yet to come

  • The governments reported move to allow five lakh tonnes of duty-free maize imports has been attributed mainly to a lower 2018-19 crop from a combination of drought and FAW infestation in major producing states.
  • The experts feel that the hot and humid climate during the monsoon season is particularly conducive for the propagation of the pest.

Way Forward

  • The problem has to be nipped in the bud, through constant vigilance on the part of farmers, right from day one of vegetative growth.
  • Treatment of seed before sowing and setting up pheromone traps in fields should be made standard practice for maize growers.
  • Farmers must take up spraying insecticides even if 2-3 moths get trapped.
  • The best way to avoid FAW infestation is to ensure that farmers in a given area sow around the same time.
  • Staggered planting allows the pest to move from field to field, making control difficult. Farmers should also go in for removal of egg masses and newly-hatched larvae.
  • The application of bio-fungicides such as Nomuraea rileyi, which give good results in the long run.
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