News Excerpt
Recently, Mizoram has reported fresh outbreak of a caterpillar moth-Fall Army Worm (FAW). Armyworm attack adds to COVID-19 woes of Assam farmers as well. During the past years the pest infestation has been reported in 20 states.

About fall armyworm (FAW)
•    Fall armyworm (FAW) (Spodopterafrugiperda) is a trans-boundary moth (pest) that has spread across more than 100 countries in less than four years including India.
•    Its native territory is the tropical and subtropical regions of America.
•    Primarily FAW favors maize but it can feed on more than 80 other crops including wheat, sorghum, millet, sugarcane, vegetable crops and cotton.
•    It can cause substantial damage to standing crops during larval stage, unless there is a natural control.
•    It has life-cycle of around 30 days; it can fly 100 km a night and eats 300 plant species throughout its life span.

Key Concerns
    Co-Influence of FAW with COVID-19
o    The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to affect food availability. If FAW remain unchecked, it would invite adversarial impact on cereal crops production and significant harvest losses. That may raise the concern of food security of India.
o    Due to COVID-19, pest management checks and activities have been reduced or even stopped. Survival from COVID-19 may pose challenge of food shortage worldwide especially in Africa.
o    The present virus epidemic has created a void for people to people engagement and awareness; therefore, agriculture department couldn’t reach to the ground.
    Present Climatic Factors
o    In India, summer paddy crops were being harvested when the lockdown began on March 25 and harvesting was yet to be completed.
o    In India, FAW found suitable environmental conditions and appropriate host plants which accelerated its spread.
o    Further, Lack of moisture and increase in the temperature increases the intensity of damage done by FAW, and consequently raise the crop losses.

Reasons for Spreading
    International Trade: It allow the trans-boundary movement of invasive species which cause imbalance in indigenous Argo-Ecological region. Seed and ripen cereal are main medium of FAW Movement.
    Lack of effective Monitoring & Response system:The outbreak can be checked by insecticides and pesticides. Its detection at early stage may led to the effective pest control which require robust monitoring and response system. In case of poor monitoring system, devastating impact is inevitable.
    Maize monoculture: Prolonged monoculture, supported by powerful pesticides has destroyed the natural enemies of the pest. In addition, since the maize is not indigenous to India, Indian way of corn cultivation is suffering especially in the absence of traditional methods of controlling strategy.
    Overuse of pesticides: It increases the incident of pest resistance that has been developed and turned the fall armyworm into a serious pest.

Visible Impact of FAW Outbreak
o    Food security: Maize is the third-most important cereal crop in India after rice and wheat. It accounts for 9 per cent of the total food grain production in the country. Losses due to FAW can cause food shortage for human as well as for animals.Although corn is not a staple in India, it serves an important role as feed for poultry. The decrease in maize production due to present outbreak thus has a cascading effect on the poultry industry.
Crops    Emerging Insect pests
Cotton    Cotton mealybug, whiteflies, tobacco caterpillar
Wheat, Barley, Oat    Aphid species
Rice    BPH, WBPH, Leaf folder
Maize, sorghum    Shoot fly, Pyrilla
Vegetables    Cabbage caterpillar, tobacco caterpillar (cole crops); American bollworm (okra, cole crops, chilli); leaf miner (cucurbits, tomato); spider mites (brinjal, okra) and aphids (tomato)
Oilseeds    Tobacco caterpillar, cabbage caterpillar

Fruits    Fruit moth (citrus), mealybugs, fruit flies
o    Farmer’s Income: At harvesting stage all the capital has been already invested by farmer. Colossal harvesting losses affect the income of farmer. Small and marginal farmers agonizes which discourage the future cultivation aspiration as well.
o    Ecological Degradation: In order to control menace, excessive insecticides and pesticides use is expected. Pesticides can contaminate soil, water, turf, and other vegetation. In addition to killing insects or weeds, pesticides can be toxic to a host of other organisms including birds, fish, beneficial insects, and non-target plants.

Pest Outbreak in India
    Fall Armyworm infestation has spread from Karnataka to all southern states, then to western Maharashtra and Gujarat and now to the eastern Indian states.
    India has also suffered from the locust attacks in Rajasthan and Gujarat with substantial damages.

Way Forward
§    Agro-ecological Practices: A shift towards agro-ecological approaches like organic and natural farming, and multiple cropping systems could help in managing the outbreak.
§    Monitoring and Governance: Effective and responsive monitoring is needed in order to mitigate the outbreak, including policies to regulate practices and remove necessary barriers.
§    Resources deployment: The need of the hour is to mobilize resources, foster public-private partnerships investment and strengthen national institutional capacity.
§    Best policy measures to minimize externalities: Evidence-based decision and policy guides are required to protect biodiversity and ecosystem related services from excessive use of pesticides.

Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India, UN-FAO, Insecticides, Pesticides