AIZAWL, May 1 - For the first time, Lalkhawngaiha, a farmer of Khamrang village near Aizawl, took up maize cultivation this year with the hope of getting better returns than other crops that he cultivated earlier.
He planned to grow at least one lakh maize plants on four hectares of land. He has so far planted about 60,000 maize plants. Within less than a month after fall armyworms were sighted in Mizoram, these deadly pests have attacked his farm.
�I have already lost 50 per cent of my maize crops,� complained the farmer.
Lalkhawngaiha is one of the many maize farmers in Mizoram whose farms have been ravaged by the dreaded fall armyworms which were first sighted at the Nghasihzau farm in Lunglei district in southern Mizoram on April 8.
According to State Agriculture department officials, these worms have attacked 1,409 hectares of maize cultivation in Mizoram, causing an estimated loss to the tune of Rs 18.05 crore.
A State-level fall armyworm Rapid Response Team (RRT) was constituted to combat the outbreak, while Agriculture officials were asked to take measures for mitigating the loss of crops and also to launch operations to contain the outbreak, Joint Director of the State Agriculture department (Crop Husbandry) James Lalsiamliana said.
He said that chemical and organic pesticides are being used to kill the worms in the maize fields.
�Utmost care has been taken to ensure that the pesticides do not harm human beings by imparting education to the farmers and by giving strict instructions on the usage of the pesticides,� Lalsiamliana added.
He said that 80 affected villages covering all the districts have been surveyed. The survey will continue to cover all the villages where the outbreak has been reported.
Officials said the damage to maize cultivations in Mizoram has reached an �injury level.� The fall armyworm outbreak was reported in neighbouring Bangladesh and Myanmar early this year.
After receiving warning from the Centre, the State Agriculture department sent warnings to all the District Agriculture Officers on February 27 last on the possibility of an outbreak in the State. After nine days, an outbreak of the worms was reported at Nghasihzau farm in Lunglei district.
Experts said that the fall armyworm is a lepidopteran pest feeding on leaves and stems of more than 80 plant species.
Officials fear that after maize, the worms will switch to other crops like cabbages, tomatoes and sugarcane.