BHC visit

The British High Commission in India has checked the progress of a state-of-the-art method for tacking the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) pest with a sensor-based pheromone trap that can be operated remotely anywhere in the world.

Senior officials Sarah Fallon, Regional Director, Science and Innovation, and Swati Saxena, Senior Science and Innovation Advisor, visited a pilot site maize farm in Maramatakki village as part of the project funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office’s (FCDO) Science and Innovation Network in India.

The work to develop a new sensor-based pheromone trap for the fall armyworm is being led by CHAP together with consortium partners CABI, food chain data specialists Knowmatics and sensor experts Ystumtec. The project is also being delivered in conjunction with the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF).

Fall armyworm is a highly invasive pest and has already caused major damage to maize crops in the south of India. In Pudukkottai, for example, scientists from MSSRF said the area under maize cultivation reduced to 1,600 acres in 2022 from 6,000 acres in 2018 due to the pest.

Monitoring of the fall armyworm, which are caught in the automatically operated sensor-based pheromone trap, can be carried out anywhere as data is transferred from satellite to remote devices such as a mobile phone, tablet or laptop computer.

The sensor-based pheromone trap, if proven to be successful, could be used to monitor and prevent the fall armyworm from spreading as well a range of other Invasive Alien Species as part of a sentinel network or strategy in India.

Dr Vinod Pandit, Programme Leader at CABI, said: “The fall armyworm has been spreading fast both within and between countries as it was predicted to do so by experts when it first landed in Africa.

“The use of sensor-based pheromone technology aims to help extension workers and smallholder farmers be more prepared to manage the fall armyworm and, potentially, other crop pests which can severely impact upon their yields and livelihoods.”

According to Knowmatics CEO Derek Scuffell, in a story posted by CHAP, the device could also provide the background data needed to establish affordable pest risk and surveillance services used by farmers, distributors, and agribusinesses. This would be to implement appropriate pest control that supports more sustainable farming, reduces costs on the farm, and lifts socio-economic outcomes.

Currently, farmers are using excessive amounts of chemical pesticides to control the fall armyworm. However, this can result in environmental damage, a reduction in beneficial insects and the depletion of soil fertility.

The sensor-based pheromone trap is seen as being part of a more environmentally-friendly and safer-to-use approach to monitor and manage the fall armyworm and other pests as part of an Integrated Pest Management approach to the problem.

Dr Ramasami Rajkumar, Senior Scientist at MSSRF, told the New Indian Express, “This new intervention will help to establish evidence-based sustainable approaches for monitoring and managing the pest, which is location-specific.

“This new monitoring tool has sensors and will be able to track the worms. We tested it at two farms in Pudukkottai and it yielded successful results. Now, we are planning to implement this at 10 farms in Pudukkottai.”

The visit from the British High Commission was facilitated by Dr Rajkumar and was also attended by M. Periyasamy, Joint Director of Agriculture.

Also, in attendance was Dr R. Ramesh, Entomologist, National Pulses Research Centre (NPRC) of Tamil Nadu Agriculture University, block Agriculture department officials, experts from Puskaram College of Agriculture sciences, men and women farmers and other stakeholders.


Additional information
Main image: The sensor-based pheromone trap for fall armyworm is demonstrated at the pilot site in Maramatakki village, India (Credit: MSSRF).

Other relevant news stories

See also the stories ‘Pilot project using modern technology to control fall armyworm attack under way in Pudukkotta’ (The New Indian Express) and ‘UK-India project to trial agri-tech solution for global crop pest’ (CHAP).