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Tackling the Global Threat of the Fall Armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda)

The Growing Menace of the Fall Armyworm

The Fall Armyworm (FAW), scientifically known as Spodoptera frugiperda, is a significant agricultural pest native to the Americas and has recently spread to Africa, posing a threat to global food security. While not yet fully established in Europe and Asia, the presence of FAW has been detected, signaling potential risks for future invasions.

This pest damages over 350 plant species, critically affecting crops such as maize, rice, sorghum, and sugarcane, as well as cotton and various vegetables. Its rapid spread highlights the urgent need for effective pest management strategies, as it causes economic losses estimated at up to $13 billion annually in Africa alone, impacting the livelihoods of millions and the economic stability of the agricultural sectors involved.

Lifecycle of the Fall Armyworm

The lifecycle of the FAW includes four stages: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa, and adult (moth). The most destructive stage, the larva, feeds voraciously on crops leading to significant yield losses. Adult moths can travel vast distances, which facilitates the rapid and wide spread of the species across continents.

Distribution map of S. frugiperda. Source: EPPO

Control Strategies and economic losses

Effective management of FAW requires an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach that incorporates biological, chemical, and cultural strategies. Innovations in biological control, such as the use of specific microbial biopesticides, are showing promise. These biopesticides target pest populations while minimizing environmental impact and reducing the reliance on traditional chemical pesticides.

Research and field data from FAW’s native range, including countries like the USA, Brazil, and Mexico, have identified several microbial biopesticides effective against FAW. These biopesticides, derived from natural or genetically modified microbes, offer a targeted approach to managing FAW populations with minimal non-target effects. In the USA alone, over 500 products containing beneficial microbial agents are registered and used as part of FAW management strategies.

FAW’s impact is profound, with the USA experiencing losses up to $500 million annually in outbreak years. The introduction of FAW into new regions threatens local agriculture and global trade, necessitating stringent phytosanitary measures to mitigate its spread and economic impact.

Global Registration and Adoption of Biopesticides

In-depth analysis of pesticide registration databases revealed that the USA leads with 35 different active ingredients (AIs) used in microbial products against FAW. Countries in Africa are beginning to adopt these biopesticide solutions, with South Africa, Kenya, and Tunisia making significant strides in registering and implementing these environmentally safer options.

Prospects and Challenges

The global challenge posed by FAW underscores the need for enhanced monitoring systems, rapid response mechanisms, and international collaboration to disseminate successful management strategies. Emphasis on microbial biopesticides will likely increase due to their efficacy and lower environmental impact compared to conventional pesticides. Advancements in biotechnology and ongoing research will further enhance the effectiveness and adoption of microbial biopesticides across affected regions.

Fuente de la imagen CABI

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