Fall Armyworm attack: Maize farmers in Bastar become clueless victims

A good crop the last time is motivating farmers to up the stakes, but they are unaware of the looming danger

By Purushottam Thakur
Published: Monday 18 March 2019
Photo: Nagaraju Jinka

Farmers in Bastar district of Chhattisgarh have a lot at stake. They have already cultivated maize and gone all out after a good crop the last time without having a clue about the Fall Armyworm (FAW) attack creeping on their source of livelihood.

“I have been farming for around five years now, but this is the first time I have come across such a worm that is destroying my maize crop. I have used few pesticides but nothing is proving to be effective,” says Parmeshwar Pandey, a worried farmer in Palari village of Bastar district, which is around 300 kilometres from Raipur.

Pandey is more worried because due to a good produce the last time he has increased the sown land to 3 acres, which included his back yard too. But he has no knowledge on who these worms are and how dangerous they can be.

“I don’t know, but people from Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) were describing it as some American keeda (worm). I just know that it’s a very destructive one,” adds Pandey.

Another farmer Khemo Baghel regrets that if he would have had more information about the infestation, he wouldn’t have opted for maize this time. “I am cultivating maize for the first time after the installation of a borewell on my land. I was clueless about the worm that is attacking maize. So far, 20-30 per cent of my maize crop has been destroyed by the worm,” says Baghel. “I would have gone for some other crop if I know about the worm.”

Most farmers in Bastar and Bakawand blocks have the same sob story.

But, scientists in Bastar’s KVK say the worm, which has just attacked maize crops in the state, can feed on more than 180 crop varieties. Dr GP Ayam, senior scientist and head of KVK Bastar, says, “Pest infestation has reached an alarming stage. There’s a chance that FAW may impact the new kharif season too.

All this is when FAW came to the state fairly recently. “Fall Armyworm was noticed for the first time in Bastar district in January 2019, but it is spreading at an alarming rate,” says Dharampal Kerketta, an entomologist from KVK Jagdalpur.

Kerketta adds that the pest’s lifespan is 30-90 days (depending on the season), each generation can migrate to more than 400 kilometres and each female adult moth lays 50-100 eggs in a single laying in cluster and about a 1,000 eggs in its lifetime.

While most farmers seem clueless about the worm, the local KVK claims it has been reaching out to farmers and advising them on how to escape or get rid of this problem. “A technique we suggested helped a farmer save most of his crop. He had cultivated maize on a half-acre land and when he told us about the infestation, we taught him the light trap technique,” Lekh Ram Verma, extension scientist at KVK Bastar.

The technique involves using a drum of water and a light source at a certain height in the crop field. The light attracts insects and water kills them or prevents them from laying eggs.

Both farmers and pesticide store owners agree that all they have is trial-and-error methods to control the pest invasion. They are still several farmers in the state who are completely unaware of the infestation and are going to cultivate maize not knowing the horror that awaits them.

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