Armyworms Devastate Crops

A plague of armyworm caterpillars has expanded in recent days and is now decimating crops in 10 provinces, eating young plants just emerging after one of the most severe droughts in recent history, officials said on Sunday.

Conditions at the beginning of June—when eggs laid by armyworm moths during the dry spell started to hatch, just as the first rains arrived—are to blame for the scourge, said Dy Sam An, deputy director of the department of crop protection at the Ministry of Agriculture.

“The impact is very great, with most plants in the area being affected,” he said, adding that Preah Vihear, Oddar Meanchey and Tbong Khmum provinces have been hardest hit.

“But the ministry has assigned a lot of officials to work with farmers to limit the damage,” he said, declining to say exactly how many had been deployed.

Mr. Sam An blamed the extended drought and ensuing heavy rains for creating the perfect conditions for the caterpillars to flourish.

“They have been destroying all the plants they meet—like bananas, watermelons, pumpkins and beans,” he said, noting that if the current conditions continued, yields would decline along with the ability of farmers to repay loans taken out to buy seeds and fertilizers.

Touch Thea, director of Stung Treng provincial agriculture department, said that a total of 15 hectares of crops had been destroyed there, the most he had seen in the last eight years. He recommended flooding rice fields to get rid of the caterpillars.

“After 24 or 48 hours, they will all die, and then the water can be taken out again,” he said. For faster results, he recommended allowing ducks into the fields to eat the worms or mixing woodfire ash into the water.

“For other crops, farmers can use poisonous stuff,” he said, stressing the need to take care when using chemical pesticides.

In June 1998, 2,345 hectares of rice and vegetable fields across three provinces were destroyed by a major armyworm infestation, which also followed a period of drought.

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