CHENNAI: Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami on Thursday announced Rs 186.25 crore financial relief for over two lakh maize farmers, spread across 17 districts, who have suffered losses due to the invasive pest Fall Armyworm.
A total of 2,92,424 maize farmers will be compensated to the tune of Rs 13,500 per hectare for irrigated crop and Rs 7,410 per hectare for rainfed crop. The invasive pest, believed to have come from the United States, has wrecked havoc across farmlands, though maize crop has been its main target.
“Despite precautionary measures, this invasive pest attacked maize in Tamil Nadu last year for the first time. Of the 3.55 lakh hectares where maize was cultivated, the crops in 2,20,986 hectares have been affected,” the Chief Minister said.
“Eighty per cent of area under maize cultivation is rain-fed. Besides, 80 per cent farmers cultivating maize are small and medium farmers. I have asked officials to initiate sustained measures, such as summer ploughing, to prevent the pest attack,” said Palaniswami.
Officials have been asked to ensure appropriate compensation is provided to farmers enrolled under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana. “I request farmers who are yet to enrol to do so at the earliest to protect themselves in case of losses.”
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Until 2016, people outside the Americas had not heard about the Fall Armyworm (FAW). Experts say the pest travelled from the Western Hemisphere to Africa and later to India around 2016-18. Today, the pest poses serious threat to almost all countries in Asia and Africa, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. The spread of the pest has been enabled and accelerated by the international trade in food crops and seeds. The pest attack in India was first reported in Karnataka in 2018. Since then, the pest has damaged crops across 10 States in the country. This year, the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) has constituted a task force to contain the damage.
Conservative estimates suggest Tamil Nadu lost a whopping 11 lakh metric tonnes of maize crop to the pest last year. Experts say FAW can travel up to 100 km per night and feeds on a range of 80 crop varieties, ranging from maize to sugar cane. This, they say, explains the quick spread of the pest across India.
FAW, which is known to eat the stalk of maize crop and chlorophyll, makes leaves turn white. “It leaves elliptical holes on the leaves. The third to sixth stage caterpillars of FAW feed on the stalks. As a result, many young crops are affected by this pest,” said an official from Thanjavur. The government has recommended the introduction of bio-pesticides like bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), beauveria bassiana, metarhizium anisopliae to control these alien species.