After wreaking havoc in Africa, 'impossible to kill' crop-destroying worm reaches Asia

After leaving a trail of ruined crops in Africa and the Americas, an invasive worm has been found in India, ...

Posted: Aug 14, 2018 4:43 PM
Updated: Aug 14, 2018 4:43 PM

After leaving a trail of ruined crops in Africa and the Americas, an invasive worm has been found in India, prompting concern that it could have a devastating effect on the country's agriculture.

Fall armyworm, a pest which feeds on maize and other key crops, has been detected in the the state of Karnataka, according to officials. In neighboring Tamil Nadu, about 15% to 20% of the maize crops on the campus of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University showed evidence of the worm.

Africa

Agriculture

Agriculture, forestry, and commercial fishing

Asia

Business and industry sectors

Business, economy and trade

Continents and regions

Farm workers

India

Labor and employment

South Asia

Workers and professionals

Southeast Asia

It has already ravaged a dozen or so countries in Africa, with some areas of Zimbabwe suffering up to 70% crop destruction. According to the Center for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) and the UK's Department for International Development, African nations stand to lose between $2.4 billion and $6.1 billion due to the worm.

Indian officials and observers are fearing a similar effect on the subcontinent.

"This will certainly spread to India's neighbors to the east," said Roger Day, program executive of Action on Invasives at CABI.

He said that East and Southeast Asia has plenty of "environmentally suitable" areas where the pest can thrive, including Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, and China.

And there's little anyone can do about it. Previous and costly attempts to stop the worm have been largely unsuccessful.

Unknown quantity

With the worm detected in at least two states so far, SK Jalali, a scientist at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), said he and his colleagues are bracing themselves for the worst.

"How the worm will spread, we do not know yet," Jalali said.

Labs across India have been alerted and told to conduct surveys of their own, but it may be too late to stop the worm's expansion.

"It looks like that it has already been present for a while. I would not be surprised if it has already spread past Karnataka," said Day.

The Indian infestation is being monitored by multiple international organizations, including CABI and the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization.

The goal, Day said, should be control rather than eradication. Scientists and researchers have formulated ways to slow the spread or to fight the infestation using bio-pesticides.

However, Jalali warned that with the infestation still in its early stages, "we don't know what will work on it."

Due to the speed at which the pest multiplies, India will have to move fast in evaluating the impact and distributing the necessary pesticides to farmers.

But even that won't be enough to eradicate the worm, according to Day.

"It is a problem that won't go away," he said. "Now that it is in Asia, it will be a permanent problem in Asia."

Permanent problem

The inch-long armyworm is native to tropical and subtropical parts of the Americas, and can migrate over vast distances.

No large-scale solution to kill the animal, the larval form of the armyworm moth, has yet been found.

It prefers to feed on maize but also has an affinity for rice, sugarcane, cotton and vegetable crops.

Maize is India's third most important crop, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers' Welfare, which estimates production at 18.73 million tonnes in the past year.

In southern Africa, the pest devastated maize crops, with Zambia even deploying its air force to help spray pesticide over affected areas.

The pest's ability to spread across countries and continents has been put down to contaminated produce being transported across borders, and the adult moth's ability to fly long distances to breed.

"It is impossible to find and kill them all," said Day. "It spreads so rapidly."

Huntsville
Broken Clouds
78° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 80°
Florence
Broken Clouds
80° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 82°
Fayetteville
Overcast
76° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 78°
Decatur
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 81°
Scottsboro
Scattered Clouds
79° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 82°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 134231

Reported Deaths: 2357
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson19676351
Mobile13373292
Montgomery8834184
Tuscaloosa8621118
Madison788178
Shelby597849
Lee589760
Baldwin547750
Marshall394343
Calhoun351544
Etowah349045
Morgan329228
Houston290321
Elmore266748
DeKalb241621
St. Clair232235
Walker231684
Talladega216629
Limestone210120
Cullman189920
Dallas179026
Franklin177129
Autauga176425
Russell17603
Lauderdale171333
Colbert164626
Blount161115
Escambia160824
Chilton158530
Jackson157511
Covington140127
Dale138644
Coffee13486
Pike119810
Chambers116442
Tallapoosa116085
Clarke109116
Marion96429
Butler91239
Barbour8827
Winston74412
Marengo72020
Pickens66214
Bibb65410
Lowndes65327
Randolph64713
Hale63528
Geneva6254
Lawrence62023
Cherokee60813
Bullock60414
Monroe5898
Clay5858
Washington55713
Perry5416
Crenshaw53732
Conecuh53511
Wilcox53111
Henry5055
Macon48018
Fayette4578
Sumter43819
Cleburne3805
Lamar3672
Choctaw34712
Greene30315
Coosa1713
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 190891

Reported Deaths: 2374
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby30755458
Davidson26474306
Hamilton944394
Knox937879
Rutherford929389
Williamson525236
Sumner481998
Wilson347645
Putnam331540
Montgomery307044
Unassigned29495
Bradley293417
Out of TN289627
Madison287764
Sevier262315
Blount251624
Maury236124
Washington229736
Robertson221035
Sullivan216433
Hamblen191426
Tipton181819
Gibson165823
Trousdale16577
Hardeman157026
Wayne14975
Dyer137014
Bedford134517
Dickson125715
Coffee123613
Cumberland120118
Weakley118919
Fayette118819
Henderson118124
Anderson117913
Loudon11726
Obion117110
Carter116828
Greene115644
Jefferson111914
McMinn111925
Warren10617
Macon105521
Lawrence104313
Monroe103618
Hardin103016
Lauderdale98316
Franklin9699
Haywood96921
Lake9192
Roane8954
Carroll88920
McNairy88318
Bledsoe8544
White8379
Rhea83412
Hawkins81218
Cheatham80710
Marshall7565
Cocke7469
Overton7456
Smith72311
Johnson7112
Chester63210
Henry6259
Lincoln6191
Giles60717
Hickman5858
DeKalb56614
Crockett53819
Marion5298
Decatur5207
Fentress5053
Campbell4464
Claiborne4425
Polk38810
Grainger3763
Union3591
Benton3369
Jackson3265
Morgan3173
Grundy2915
Cannon2860
Unicoi2861
Humphreys2513
Sequatchie2332
Clay2265
Meigs2263
Houston2203
Scott2142
Stewart2042
Lewis2011
Moore1751
Van Buren1660
Perry1500
Pickett1162
Hancock1063

Community Events