Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Cross-Border Technology Transfer: Biological Control of the Fall Armyworm in Asia and Africa

This post was written by Sara Hendery.

The fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) is becoming a household name around the world, but not for good reasons – the pest, native to the tropical and subtropical Americas, devours over 300 plant species, including maize, which feeds millions of people every day. In Africa alone, the fall armyworm has already caused nearly $13.3 billion in crop losses in just three years. Resilient to most pesticides and harsh climates, the pest has shown no signs of yielding since its arrival in Nigeria in 2016.

The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management (IPM Innovation Lab) projects that a chemical-free solution is key to long-term management of the fall armyworm. In Niger in July, the team will help support a training focused on biological control of the invasive pest hosted by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), University of Maradi in Niger, and the National Institute for Research on Food and Nutrition (INRAN). The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals, and the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) Sorghum and Millet Compact are also supporters of the training.

The IPM Innovation Lab will be sending participants from Cambodia, Vietnam, Nepal, and Bangladesh to attend the training in Niger in an effort to catalyze cross-continental knowledge and information exchange. Also in attendance will be participants from Ghana, Togo, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroun, Sudan and Niger.

“Maize is a staple crop in both Africa and Asia,” said Muni Muniappan, Director of the IPM Innovation Lab. “Biological control offers an economically and environmentally friendly approach to combatting the fall armyworm and the technology is easily transferrable to more than one country and continent. It’s important that in already fragile economic situations, we introduce options that are truly viable.”

In 2018, in collaboration with ICRISAT and the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), the IPM Innovation Lab helped find two natural enemies of the fall armyworm, Telenomus and Trichogramma, which attack the eggs of the pest. Telenomus and Trichogramma populations are low early in the season, hence, mass production and timely release of the natural enemies will suppress the pest throughout the cropping season.

The training will cover status and identification of the fall armyworm, mass production of both Telenomus and Trichogramma, best laboratory practices, scouting for egg and larval natural enemies in the field, and field release. Also covered will be case studies of successful biological control, especially the case of using natural enemies against the pearl millet head miner in the Sahel and the case of using classical biological control against the papaya mealybug.  

Due to the fall armyworm’s unique ability to burrow inside the whorl of plants, conventional pesticides, which are already costly, are not practical options. The pest moves quickly – two or three generations of the pest can feed off a single crop during a growing season before moving on, and a female can lay 1,000 eggs during her lifetime. Smallholder farmers, many of whom live and work on less than an acre of land, are especially vulnerable to the pest’s attack.

“By the end of the training we expect participants to master how to scout for fall armyworm parasitoids and how to mass rear and release Telenomus and Trichogramma,” said Malick Ba, principal scientist at ICRISAT. “They should be able to establish cultures of natural enemies back home for use in their own biological control programs.”  

The same natural enemies of the fall armyworm occur in both Asia and Africa. A major component of the Niger training will be preparing and guiding participants on how to garner support for scaling up biological control programs in their respective countries.