Maize fields belonging to about 55 households in Khamdang gewog, Trashiyangtse, are infected by armyworms.

Maize is the staple food in the gewog.

A villager from Rawa, Peldon, 79, said all maize plants were infested with worms.

She said farmers are losing interest to work in the field seeing the pest all over the maize plants. “After working so hard, it is disheartening to lose our plants to pest.”

Most farmers in the gewog earn income from selling maize products. However, this year farmers have lost hope.

Another villager, Tshering, said maize plants were healthy initially, but plants started dying within a week, as armyworms infested them.

Farmers said this is the third year worms infested their maize plants.

Some villagers said they purchased pesticides and sprayed them, but that did not have any effect. “The infestation increased at an alarming rate,” Tshering said.

The gewog agriculture extension officer, Tshering Lhamo, said they distributed pesticides to farmers to control the pests. “I advised all farmers to spray pesticides for early intervention, but most farmers didn’t spray the pesticide this month, as it is considered as an auspicious month.”

Meanwhile, farmers in Trashigang are also facing similar problems.

A farmer from Bidung gewog, Ugyen Wangchuk, said the insects feed on leaves of maize plants and also eats the stem, weakening the plant.

Another farmer, Lobzang Choden, said that once the pest affected the plant, spraying pesticide didn’t help much. “It won’t grow well even if we cultivate again. I doubt if last year’s production would be enough for us.”

Farmers claim that intervention from agriculture officials and the government would help them.

The dzongkhag agriculture officer (DAO), Dorjee, said armyworm infestation was reported from all the gewogs.  “With weather conditions becoming more favourable for pest outbreak, extension officials are instructed to monitor and assist farmers with timely control measures.”

He said the dzongkhag agriculture sector distributed the pesticides twice to farmers. “We are trying our best to mitigate the damage. We also advised all farmers to spray pesticides for better results.”

Agriculture officials are assessing the damage and collecting data in affected areas.

Deputy chief plant protection officer of the National Plant Protection Centre, Kiran Mahat (PhD), said that since the pest is new, the Department of Agriculture is monitoring the pest.

“We don’t have a permanent solution for such pests, but we are monitoring the pest using specific lures and trap across the country,” he said. “If farmers report early to the agriculture extension officer, early intervention will be effective,” he said, adding farmers report late.

According to Kiran Mahat(PhD), the moths are strong fliers that travels more than 100kms in a night and spread rapidly. 

“The larvae are nocturnal, they become active at night and hide during the day,”he said. “It is mostly observed to infest crops in warm and humid areas.”

By Neten Dorji | Trashiyangtse

Edited by Tashi Dema