Last month, Tulasa Rai, one of dZi's Agriculture Technicians, received an urgent call. It was from a concerned farmer in Chheskam calling with distressing news about her maize plants. The farmer witnessed signs of chewing damage on the leaves, prompting to inspect the whorls closely. To her dismay, she discovered the presence of larva-like insects and suspected them to be the imfamous Fall Armyworms (FAW). Unfortunately, this is the second consecutive year of FAW infestation in our partner communities. Last year, Chheskam suffered immense losses, with approximately 60% of the maize crops being damaged by FAW. Despite the best efforts of Tulasa and other technicians who implemented interventions, their solutions were too late to save many crops. However, the invaluable awareness generated last year proved to be a saving grace this year, as farmers were able to promptly detect the telltale symptoms and identify the invading insect on their own. Consequently, early measures were taken that effectively thwarted the potential damage to crops.

Tulasa and other agriculture technician examining fall armyworm infestation
Tulasa, along with other Agriculture Technicians, examining a Fall Armyworm infestation in Chheskam

Born in the vibrant and biodiverse tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, the Fall Armyworm has long been recognized as a notorious adversary of crops. However, its audacious march to become a global agricultural threat is a more recent phenomenon, captivating the attention of farmers and experts worldwide. In 2016, FAW made its initial foray beyond the Americas, particularly in Nigeria, thus initiating its spread across the world.

Fall Armyworm moths effortlessly glide through the air, covering astonishing distances of up to 100-200 kilometers (60-120 miles) each night. Such a prodigious range enabled this insect to colonize southern Nepal in 2019, devastating corn fields. This posed a severe threat to Nepal's agricultural communities, particularly because corn is one of the primary crops cultivated by the majority of farmers in Nepal, followed closely by millet, rice, and vegetables.

Precise methods to control this resilient insect have yet to be discovered. While synthetic chemical pesticides are commonly employed in many areas, we discourage their use in our partner communities due to their impact on soil health and beneficial insects. With an unwavering commitment to solutions, we are actively seeking alternative measures to halt the relentless FAW spread. In the event of an infestation, our technicians advise farmers to meticulously handpick and destroy the eggs and larvae of these destructive butterflies. Additionally, we are promoting the utilization of locally produced organic pesticides, derived from local plants such as mugwort, chilly powder, garlic, turmeric, etc. to bolster soil health and deter FAW propogation.

This year, our dedicated efforts have yielded promising outcomes. During a comprehensive training session organized in July, our agriculture technicians learned new techniques to help control Fall Armyworm infestations. Subsequently, we implemented innovative interventions, including applying small drops of grease inside the corn whorls to create a sticky barrier that prevents larvae from developing and causing further harm. These ingenious methods have demonstrated significant efficacy, effectively inhibiting larval growth and causing far less harm to the environment than traditional pesticides.

Watch this informative video to see our agriculture program's innovative strategies and organic farming practices in combating the Fall Army Worm in mountain communities.

However, all these techniques work only with early and accurate detection. Can you identify Fall Armyworms?

Take a closer look at the identifying factors and larval photo below:

How to identify Fall Armyworm

By recognizing these destructive pests in their early stages, you too can save your crops from Fall Armyworm infestation!