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Fighting armyworms

Armyworms can occur at densities in excess of 50,000 per hectare. Image: Ken Wilson

Researchers studying rampaging armyworms have discovered key knowledge about the natural ecology of a virus that naturally infects the armyworms – fundamental insights that can be used to enhance food security without using chemical pesticides.

Data breakout

£7.5 million SARID programme funds 12 projects over five years
70% Number of farmers in outbreak areas who cannot afford to buy insecticides
SpexNPV Name of armyworm-killing virus (or Spodoptera exempta nucleopolyhedrovirus)

The African armyworm, Spodoptera exempta, is a voracious caterpillar pest of cereal crops. Outbreaks occur throughout sub-Saharan Africa but mostly originate in primary outbreak areas in Tanzania and Kenya and resource-poor farmers are hit hardest.

The secret may lie in the changing seasons. Applying the virus as a biopesticide early enough in the crop growing season not only protects vulnerable food supplies in a region where famine is a constant threat, but also allows time for new stocks of virus to be harvested for later use.

The work, funded by BBSRC and DFID under the SARID programme, also builds local research capacity and expertise right where it is needed.