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The South Asia Biotechnology Centre (SABC) – a not-for-profit scientific organization has launched an ambitious and multi-year project SAFFAL (Safeguarding Agriculture & Farmers against Fall Armyworm in India) to safeguard agriculture and farmers against Fall Armyworm in India in Mumbai. The project is supported by FMC India, a global leader in sustainable crop protection and will work in collaboration with key stakeholders from agricultural value chains which potentially may get impacted due to the spread of Fall Armyworm in India. The project SAFFAL aims at developing a suite of techniques, good agricultural practices and control measures along with educational material for various stakeholders to enhance farmers’ preparedness to tackle the menace of fall armyworm.
Fall Armyworm (FAW) (Spodoptera frugiperda), a native of Americas, is an invasive pest spreading across the world, with its incidence in African agriculture in 2016 followed by its first-time appearance on maize in the Indian state of Karnataka in August 2018. In last two seasons, Kharif and Rabi 2018, the fall armyworm has emerged as a major threat to farmers and Indian agriculture due to its high incidence and consequent damage especially to maize. The early emergence in crop life cycle, voracious feeding habit, large-scale aggressive behaviour, high reproduction, fast migration and irreparable nature of crop damage, all make it a key pest. Notably, the FAW feeds on many host plants and has been found on sweet corn, baby corn, maize, sugarcane and sorghum, and can feed on many other important food and feed crops in India. As of now, the pest is reported in the states of Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal.
In this context, the FAW presents a significant challenge to smallholder farmers by substantially increasing cost of production, reducing productivity and farmers’ income and thus a considerable threat to Indian agriculture. “Practical experiences of successfully dealing with pink bollworm in cotton through involvement of smallholder farmers will be explored and replicated to overcome the threat of fall armyworm”, said Dr. CD Mayee, a renowned plant epidemiologist and the President of the South Asia Biotechnology Centre (SABC), New Delhi.
In the recent past, SABC in collaboration with key stakeholders has successfully implemented a massive programme “war on pink bollworm” in Vidharbha region of Maharashtra.
FMC India, a leader in the crop protection industry in India, has come forward to support and sponsor the fight against FAW as a part of its commitment to sustainable agriculture and promoting integrated pest management (IPM). “We at FMC are truly committed to support the Indian farmers with the right tools and technologies to help make agriculture sustainable. Supporting Project SAFFAL is key to the farmers’ livelihoods, which is what FMC is all about,” said Pramod Thota, President, FMC India.
Bethwyn Todd, the Asia Pacific President of FMC, who was in Mumbai to sign the sponsorship agreement with SABC on the project, said, “Fall Armyworm is a highly destructive pest and is known globally to have caused a serious challenge to farmers across continents and across crops. Education is the key to success about managing this pest. We are committed to partnering with farmers, the scientific community and governments in tackling this challenge and Project SAFFAL is one such example.”
Fall armyworm has caused extensive damage to crops, especially maize, which is very critical for the animal feed industry and also crops such as sugarcane and millets. Consequently, India is forced to import maize for feed and starch industries, which together consume nearly 80 percent of the domestic production. “This year, due to the FAW and unfavourable weather, maize production fell by about 15 - 20 percent. As a result, prices have shot up turning the economics of the fast-growing feed industry unviable. This pest can cause substantial harm to the harvest and eventually, profitability of the farmers. Ultimately, rise in raw material prices will push the prices of meat, egg and milk up and will negatively impact the consumers” said, Raghavan Sampathkumar, Executive Director, CLFMA of India, the apex association that represents India’s dynamic livestock sector.
The salient features of Project SAFFAL are summarised as developing knowledge resources on Fall armyworm based on global scientific data and experiences and including verifiable reports from domestic sources; bringing status report on fall armyworm, its biology, life cycle, feeding habits, adverse economic impact assessment, distribution and migration and host pest interactions to be collected, collated and expertly analysed in Indian context; create a dedicated web-based portal www.fallarmyworm.org.in with repository of information and network of institutions to spread information in India; organising farm demonstrations in collaboration with respective public sector institutions to showcase IPM package of practices; building capacity and skills of smallholder farmers by organising on the farm programmes, field visits and farmers’ mela at demonstration field to spreading information about best practices.