Ugyen Dorji

Five years ago, Pema Tamang, a Rangthangling farmer, harvested about 700kg of maize from his one-acre land. This helped his family, supplementing their rice supply.

Rangthangling gewog in Tsirang dzongkhag, Bhutan, has fertile soil where Pema grows maize, cereals, vegetables, and fruits. Many farmers in the area do the same, aiming for self-sufficiency. Tsirang dzongkhag is known for its vegetables in both winter and summer, helping the country’s food security.

However, farmers have been facing a major challenge. Over the past five years, Fall Armyworm has damaged their crops, leading to lower yields. This pest is particularly harmful to maize.

Pema Tamang now struggles to yield even 100kg. Other farmers in Rangthangling report similar issues. The pest damages maize from its early stages to when it bears fruit, deterring their efforts. “It is no different,” she said.

The Fall Armyworm has affected not only Rangthangling gewog but also many other places in the dzongkhag.

Another farmer from Rangthangling said, “The worm’s impact goes beyond maize; it also damages vegetables.”

Farmers report increased damage during dry periods when the pests attack the crops, even rendering the plants inedible for cows.

In 2021, the pest destroyed around four metric tons of crops across 20 acres in four geowgs. Similarly, in 2022, 1.5 metric tonnes of crops were damaged in 11 acres across two gewogs.

Farmers have tried using pesticides provided by the dzongkhag and gewog agriculture officers. However, these pesticides aren’t effective against the pests.

Some farmers have resorted to using cow urine and manure, but this doesn’t fully solve the problem. The pests thrive in sunny weather and emerge when it rains, washing away pesticides.

Agricultural experts recommended light traps to control the pests, but many farmers are hesitant.

The spread of the Fall Armyworm has been observed in various regions. Climate change might be contributing to the pest’s emergence, as increased temperatures accelerate insect metabolism. This pest can travel long distances quickly, worsening its impact. Due to these challenges, farmers are witnessing a decline in crop cultivation and an increase in food imports, impacting local food production and self-sufficiency.

To counteract the pest, experts advised farmers to sow crops after the time when armyworms lay eggs. “We were told to monitor the fields regularly and keep field boundaries clean as preventive measures,” Pema Tamang said.

While pesticides are provided, they often prove ineffective due to water shortages in many places. The use of pheromone traps could be effective, but many farmers are hesitant due to religious reasons.

Farmers said that if the situation persists, crop cultivation will become discouraging and food deficiency will increase.

Tsirang Dzongkhag’s water shortage problem also means that farmers are unable to plan for other crops. The spread of the Fall Armyworm has been reported in multiple gewogs, with measures taken to control it.

Farmers said that factors like decreasing soil fertility and climate change might contribute to the pest’s emergence. “Climate change could increase the metabolic rate of pests like the Fall Armyworm,” a farmer said.

This situation has led to a decrease in local food production and an increase in imports.

Pema Tamang laments that the destructive armyworm has decreased production, leading to more rice, oil, and vegetable imports in the village. The challenge remains ongoing, impacting both the farmers and their communities.