THOOTHUKUDI: Year 2018. The maize farmers across south India were scratching their heads as the Fall armyworms were eating all their hardwork. Scores of helpless farmers did nothing but watched their crops being eaten up by the worms.
There was no pragmatic solution to the issue. Sometimes, big problems need simple solutions. And such simple solutions often come from ordinary men.
Two years on, 65-year-old S Muthupandi, who is a farmer, has come up with a no-nonsense strategy to deal with Fall armyworms problem.
His solution: Plant sorghum as a border crop.
Muthupandi is from Suriyaminikan of Kayathar. He has successfully prevented the armyworms from entering the maize field by planting sorghum on the borders and managed to get good yield during the Kharif season.
Inspired by the result, the agriculture department has suggested the maize farmers replicate Muthupandi's model to keep the armyworms at bay during the Rabi season.
In a conversation with The New Indian Express, Muthupandi said he cultivated maize in 4 acre during this summer and got an average yield of 12 quintals per acre. He had cultivated sorghum dotting the borders of his field. According to him, he did not apply chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
A team of agriculture officers headed by Kayathar Block Agriculture Assistant Director Nagarajan inspected Muthupandi's field.
Dr Ravi, Assistant Professor, Department of Entomology, Agriculture College and Research Institute (AC&RI), Killikulam, who inspected the field, told The New Indian Express that sorghum had appreciably prevented the entry of armyworms into the maize field. The crops sustained lesser damage compared to other maize fields, he observed.
"The damage in sorghum was between 8 and 10 per cent, while the damage was negligible in maize," he said.
"The sorghum grows 2 metre taller than maize and its smell invites armyworms to lay eggs on its leaflets," the officer explained.
Nagarajan said 12 quintals per acre was the best yield one could achieve given the dry condition. "Also, Muthupandi had followed low-cost practices such as staying off the chemical fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides. This helped him save at least `6,000 per acre," he pointed out.
On the advantage of sorghum, Muthupandi said he had cultivated sorghum surrounding cotton crop in 2017 and harvested 32 quintals of cotton per acre. Ravi said sorghum does not need any special care as it will accept the fertilisers and pesticides applied to maize since both crops belong to one family.
He suggested that the maize farmers follow a pattern of cultivating four rows of sorghum surrounding the maize fields.
When asked if the model can be applied during wet season, Ravi said it was proven that border crops like gingelly, sunflower and marigold reduce pest attack.
Entered India in 2018, Fall armyworms ravaged the maize fields across Telangana, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Fall armyworm moth can travel more than 2,000 km during its 10-14 days of lifespan. The Tamil Nadu government had announced a relief of Rs 186.25 crore for the maize farmers and sanctioned '47 crore towards controlling the pests this year.
Earlier, the officers advised the maize farmers to adopt the 'Technology Capsule' devised by Tamil Nadu Agriculture University (TNAU). It suggested summer ploughing, application of 100 kg neem cake per acre, and seed treatment to prevent the worms. The maize is likely to be harvested in over 45,000 hectares during this Rabi season in Thoothukudi district.