Japan is sounding the alarm against the inexorable march of the fall armyworm, as reports of damage by the pest in Asia following its spread in Africa are increasing, threatening Japan with infestation.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has warned of significant damage to farm products unless authorities and farmers take appropriate measures to remove the insect in a timely fashion.
First detected in Kagoshima Prefecture in July last year, the fall armyworm has caused damage in about 30 of the nation’s 47 prefectures.
It devours the leaves and stems of about 80 plant species, including such economically important plants as corn, sorghum, vegetables and rice, before emerging from caterpillar form to become an adult moth.
Given that the fall armyworm’s numbers in Japan are currently small, damage to the nation’s agriculture has been minor so far. But the ministry is advising farmers to kill the crop-hungry caterpillars when they detect them and report cases to authorities in an effort to curb a further spread.
Masaya Matsumura, a pest control expert at the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization, said preventing a further infestation requires concerted actions by affected countries,
“Efforts by one individual country alone are unlikely to yield fruitful results when the pest spreads from one country to another,” Matsumura said.
Native to tropical and subtropical regions of the North and South Americas, the fall armyworm has spread rapidly to Africa, India, Southeast Asia and China since 2016. It was detected in South Korea and Taiwan in June last year.
Although the exact causes of the outbreaks have not been specified, researchers speculate that such factors as globalization, climate changes and westerlies — prevailing winds from the west to east in the mid-latitudes — have played a part.
Matsumura said there is no evidence to suggest the pest has lived through winter in Japan, although in theory it could burrow in the country’s more tropical regions, including Okinawa.
Many fall armyworm are believed to have flown from southeast China and Taiwan on the westerlies and reproduce only in warmer seasons.
Underscoring the view by experts such as Matsumura, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization last December launched a $500 million initiative in strengthening prevention and sustainable pest control capacities at a global level.
“FAO has launched a Global Action for FAW Control as a response to the international threat that (the insect) is posing for food security and the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers,” the Rome-based agency said.