While farmers say their cereal production has dropped to half, officials claim the pest’s effect on the state is minimal
The attack of Fall Armyworm on maize crop in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh has not just affected farmers, but also cattle. The state, which produces the most maize in the country, has several areas that are unable to generate enough fodder after the pest attack.
“I supply maize to a cow shelter run by Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams for fodder and was always able to give 18 to 20 tonnes of maize per acre. The yield has now fallen to 10 tonnes. Our village, which majorly used to grow maize, has only 10 per cent of its farmers cultivating it owing to the worm,” says K Bhupathi Reddy, farmer from Mallayapalli village near Tirupati in Chittoor district.
The worm was first sighted in AP in August 2018 in Srikakulam and Vizianagaram districts. The worm has attacked Kadapa, Nellore, Ananthapur, Chittoor, Kurnool, Vizag and East Godavari districts in AP.
But agriculture officials in the state believe the effect of the worm is minimal and the damage is well below threshold level. G Sudhakar Raju, joint director of agriculture in AP, says, “Farmers might have shifted from maize this time out of panic but we will still be number one in maize production in the country as the effect of Fall Armyworm is minimal.”
Since the worm can wreak havoc on around 80 crops especially cereals, researchers at Institute of Frontier Technology (IFT) associated with the Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University (ANGRAU) in Tirupati are a worried lot.
“The life cycle of the worm can range from 30 to 45 days. In winter, the cycle can extend up to even 90 days. With continuous overlapping generations the worm can be seen in all stages at the same time. This makes it difficult to manage the pest,” says M John Sudheer, principal scientist at ANGRAU.
The researchers also suggested a slew of pesticides for farmers to spray on the crop. But farmers in Mallayapalli say those pesticides are not very effective.
“The pesticide, which had earlier helped control the pest, is not working on the maize field as the worm hides in folds of leaves and pesticides doesn’t reach there,” says K Bhupathi Reddy, farmer from Mallayapalli village near Tirupati in Chittoor district.
He adds, “I have spent nearly Rs 20,000 to control these pests this season. We are paid Rs 2,000 per tonne for the fodder. We have been growing maize for a number of years now and never had to worry about this crop after sowing it.”
Another farmer B Govardhan Reddy says the medicine is only helpful for a few days and then the worm resurfaces with renewed vigour. “We are spraying medicines out of sheer desperation. The pest control measures being taken up have increased days we need to work on the field,” he says.
Scientists at IFT are wary of the dangers that use of hazardous chemical pesticides can have on food chain. “We are going to re-examine the use of chemicals in research labs on these crops as they are used as fodder for milch cattle,” says Sudheer.
K Manjula, another scientist from IFT, is using a virus, a bacteria and a fungus as biological agents against the worm. “We are growing a culture of these microbes in labs. We will use them in fields. These can be used to control other pests like Lepidoppteran caterpillars,” she says.
Another expert finds that monocropping is making states more vulnerable to the pest attack. GV Ramanjaneyulu of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Hyderabad says, “Mono cropping pattern increases survival rate of Fall Armyworm. The worm cannot be managed with pesticides. We need long term strategies devoid of chemical pesticides.”
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