S. China's farmland could be devastated by fall armyworms

40,000 hectares already affected, 90 times more than this time last year

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Fall armyworm. (Council of Agriculture photo)

Fall armyworm. (Council of Agriculture photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — China is forecasting huge agricultural losses with the arrival of the fall armyworm (FAW) in 2020.

On Feb. 20, China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs released prevention guidelines in order to help farmers counter the spread of the pests. In the document, the agency confirmed the pest's presence in China and warned that its proliferation might disastrously impact the harvest.

The Chinese authorities found the number of FAWs to be ramping up in the south and southwest of the country from November to January. The affected area, which covers 600,000 mu (40,000 hectares), is 90 times larger than during the same period last year. Since the worms have already infested over 1.2 million mu of land in adjacent Laos, the authorities predicted a worse scenario may occur in China.

According to the guidelines, the northward migration of the armyworms will happen one month earlier than it did last year. Once they move north, 50 percent of the cornfields in the regions around the Yellow River and the Huai River will be under threat, affecting almost 100 million mu of land.

So far, the agency has suggested several solutions to counter the spread of the armyworms, including physical methods, such as insect light traps, as well as biological methods like using bacteria like Beauveria bassiana to target the larvae. Using other insects, such as trichogrammatidae, which lay death-causing eggs inside the FAW, is also recommended.

Despite the emerging agricultural crisis in China, the approaching locust outbreak in East Africa and Pakistan is also triggering fears. According to the Daily Beast, the Himalayas serve as a natural barrier, but the swarms might enter Southeast Asia through Bangladesh, and from there it is only short trip to China's Yunnan Province.

In an article published by China's state-run mouthpiece the Global Times, the nation's authorities dismissed the possibility of a locust plague in China. The newspaper said that the measures, such as the deployment of 100,000 ducks to eat the insects as well as the insects' inevitable capture for local cuisine — fried locusts in Shandong Province, for instance — will successfully prevent the outbreak.

However, according to research published in Science Advances, the chemicals that these particular locusts release can serve as a warning to predators. When in fear of being poisoned, birds are unlikely swoop in for the hunt.