The recent spread of Spodoptera frugiperda, commonly known as Fall Armyworm in Papua New Guinea’s Western Province is causing concern in the Pacific region, according to the Pacific Community (SPC).
Fall armyworm is a pest that preys on food crops such as corn, sweet potato, vegetables and wheat, and has the potential to cause significant damage to several important crops in Papua New Guinea, including corn, sugarcane and rice.
SPC's Land Resources Division Pest and Management Advisor Fereti Atu warns the invasive pest can affect the region if precautions are not heeded.
“We are closely monitoring the situation and have procured fall armyworm pheromone traps and lures from Costa Rica for distribution,” he said. “With the current rate of spread, the Melanesia island group faces a direct threat through this potential pathway initiated from Australia. It is now in PNG and next will very likely spread to the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, etc.”
Atu said the armyworm is also a biosecurity problem. “This moth is high flying, and it is very difficult to stop its spread. Moths caught in the whirlwind of cyclones in the southern belt from Africa to Southeast Asia could be one of the causes of it reaching the shores of Australia and then Papua. Stringent biosecurity measures, including lures at periphery of the infested area, should be adopted.”
The fall armyworm was first detected in 2016 in Nigeria and is now present in 28 countries, with tens of millions of hectares of maize infested. Growing international trade and transportation may have caused its spread outside of Africa. Pacific island countries are at high risk after it jumped from Africa to South Asia, Southeast Asia, northern Australia and now PNG. It was discovered on young corn plants at Mari Village and in Daru township in PNG in February 2020.
While the invasive pest cannot be eliminated, farmers are urged to manage it sustainably in their cropping systems through Integrated Pest Management. SPC is working closely with PNG stakeholders on research, surveillance and monitoring using pheromone traps, natural enemies, and evaluation of insecticides used on the armyworm.
Recommended quarantine and biosecurity at the border includes early warning systems using pheromone traps and any alert inspection on other potential pathways.
Also recommended are early warning systems using pheromone traps and regular surveillance, particularly of potential host plants. Regular plant health clinics in farming communities could help with detection. (SPC)
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