Fall armyworm has infested 700,000 ha under maize crop in 2019-20 (Jul-Jun) kharif season, 40% more than the affected area of around 500,000 ha last year, an official with Indian Council of Agricultural Research said. “Attack of fall armyworm is deterring farmers to grow maize this rabi. Around 9-10% of total area under rabi crop was found infested with the pest,” the official said. Of 8.1 mln ha, kharif maize crop standing across 700,000 ha area has been damaged.
Attack by the pests was reported in 14 states in kharif with major damage in Karnataka and Maharashtra. Infestation of fall armyworm kharif maize crop was reported across 263,000 ha in Karnataka and 232,000 ha in Maharashtra, the official said.
Farmers in the country have sown rabi maize across 788,300 ha as of Dec 5, down 10% on year, according to farm ministry data. The acreage is down mostly in south India as farmers in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu have moved to other crops fearing infestation of fall armyworm in maize crop. Currently, maize farmers are seen shifting to wheat and it is evident in higher area under the latter, he said.
Farmers across the country had planted wheat across 20.3 mln ha as of Thursday, up more than 4% on year, according to the farm ministry data. The fall in acreage in both kharif and rabi crops would hit overall production and also fuel prices of the coarse cereal, the official said. Maize crop in 2019-20 kharif was pegged at 19.9 mln tn, up from 19.0 mln tn a year ago, according to the first advance estimate by the farm ministry.
The ministry may lower the projection in the second advance estimate, he said. The pest, responsible for widespread food shortages in sub-Saharan Africa last year, was identified by scientists in Karnataka’s Chikkaballapur district in July. In Chikkaballapur, pest infestation was found on 70% of the maize crop, before it quickly spread to other areas.
The pest can hide within growing leaves, making early detection difficult. It is also resistant to many insecticides and has very few natural predators, making infestation tough to control. Originally found in North and South America, fall armyworm made its way to Nigeria in 2016. Within two years, it had spread to 44 countries in Africa, damaging up to 40 mln tn of maize.