United Nations : An “invasive pest”, recently detected in India that devours more than 80 different plant species including many staple crops, could threaten the food security and livelihoods of millions of small-scale farmers in Asia, the Food and Agriculture Organisation has warned.

Fall Armyworm pest was recently detected in India, marking the first time it has been found in Asia after wreaking havoc in Africa.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) fears it is “highly likely” to spread, with southeast Asia and south China most at risk.

The UN agency is offering its expertise to farmers and Governments in the region to help them manage Fall Armyworm.

“Fall Armyworm could have a devastating impact on Asia’s maize and rice producers — mostly small-scale farmers who depend on their crops for food and to make a living,” said Kundhavi Kadiresan, FAO Asst Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific. She described the arrival of the pest, which has been moving steadily east across the globe, as “a threat that we cannot ignore”.

Small-scale farmers cultivate roughly 80% of farmland in Asia, where more than 200 million hectares of maize and rice are cultivated each year, according to FAO.

China is the second-largest maize-producing country in the world, and over 90% of the world’s rice is produced and consumed in the Asia-Pacific region.

The fear is Fall Armyworm can fly 100 kms at night, could chomp through crops year-round, given the region’s “favourable” climate. Albeit native to Americas, it has been on the march across Africa over the past two years, affecting millions of hectares of maize and sorghum. It was first detected in Nigeria in January 2016. Two years later, it had spread to sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of 10 mostly northern countries and territories.

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