These breakthroughs hold a lot of significance for Nigerian agriculture
Insect pests have been a perennial concern in agriculture because of the devastating effects they have on crops: eating the leaves, making crops susceptible to diseases, destroying crops, reducing crop yield, etc. This has led to the proliferation of pesticides, especially chemical pesticides.
And then, as this status quo proliferated, a consort of scientists at the Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, Lancaster University and the Tanzanian company, Eco Agri Consult, made a startling discovery: a particular species of insect pests, African armyworms, can be decimated by a bacterium called Wolbachia, which can thus serve as a biopesticide.
How? Before this discovery and the light bulb that lit it, these worms had been thriving on farms with impunity by feeding on cereal crops like rice, millet, wheat, and maize. When their population was high on the farm, the farm losses were correspondingly high and difficult to reduce through chemical pesticides.
However, intensive research into the armyworms revealed that some of them carry – or can be made to carry – in their system the Wolbachia bacterium which, while protecting other insects from harmful viruses, actually makes the armyworm susceptible to the virus. In fact, armyworms were 6-14 times more susceptible to the virus than other insects.
In thus infecting and subsequently killing the armyworm, one virus, the Spex NPV, is at once of great benefit to many cereal farms. The icing on the cake is the fact that other beneficial insects, farm crops, livestock and human beings are spared from its wrath. Furthermore, this virus is easy and inexpensive to produce or procure locally. This discovery is thus a global breakthrough for farmers who have been plagued by the menace of armyworms.
In related agri-tech news, two US-based companies, Spensa Technologies Inc. and Allegro Dynamics LLC, have just, respectively, designed and developed an online application – MyTraps.com. This application will enable farmers and other stakeholders to track the number of insect pests on their farmlands in order to effectively use insecticides and pesticides and therefore control crop damage. This is done through Excel spreadsheets into which the insect data (location, number, type, life cycle, effects) and corresponding pesticide records are keyed in, reviewed, and updated in order to give the farmers the most accurate piece of information. Because MyTraps.com can be used for any and all types of crop, it is especially important to all present and prospective subscribers. What’s more, because of the way the data is managed, farmers can also anticipate conditions for future seasons and thus tailor their pesticide treatment accordingly.
Spensa is also responsible for another emerging application on the US market – the Z-trap – which collects data on certain insects and, through wireless messaging on the farmer’s phone or computer, reports directly to him/her on the number of target insects detected. The importance of insect management programmes was emphasised by Spensa Technologies president/CEO, who described them as fundamental for agribusiness and responsible for a substantial percentage of losses for US farmers. “Reducing insecticide use not only reduces the cost to the growers, it reduces the amount of chemicals that are released in the environment,” he added. Furthermore, through aerial photography, insect data are placed over images of the farmland (corresponding to their location on the land) to enable farmers get an accurate understanding of the situation on their farms.
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