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Army of worms attacks Mongar maize fields

The infestation is widespread in the district and devastating to its food security 

Mongar farmers have reported an infestation of their maize fields by a pest called ‘army worm’.  It has already spread in Drepong, Chali, Mongar, Tsakaling, and Saling gewogs.

Maize is one of the main staple foods of the villagers and they are worried the worm might not leave them much to harvest.

District agriculture officials said it is not a disease.  They have supplied chemicals to the farmers and also remain ready to support them.

Kinley, 34, from Kalapang village in Saling gewog, said each year he cultivates three-and-a-half acres of land with maize, which produces enough for his family.  This year, because of infestation, he said he would be able to harvest half or a quarter of that yield.

“We’re in a difficult situation because we are re-cultivating the first crop, and we’ll miss the second,” he said. “There wouldn’t be much to live on.”

Without a good harvest, he said his family would have to fully depend on imported rice, even though 50kg of rice hardly lasts for 20 days for his family.

Another farmer Chador said that this year the infestation wasted the first cultivation of many farmers, which has left many farmers worried about their survival.

Farmers in Kalapang, after they had reported the problem to their agriculture extension officer, were given insecticides.  As it would kill a lot of insects, farmers said they prefer to cultivate again than spray chemicals.

The decline in yield, according to farmers of Chali, would mean that they wouldn’t have anything to sell.  Most villagers grow maize to sell it as tengma (pounded maize).

“We survive on kharang (maize grits),” farmer Tshewang said.  He said, among the food crops, maize plays a critical role in household food security, especially for the poor.  He said many farmers in east are struggling with crop diseases.

He said they requested agriculture officials to do something about the disease at the earliest, because more than 80 percent of maize has already been lost.

“I think there must be something possible to do away this diseases,” he said. “If our first harvest is gone, then it’ll make our living difficult because, in the second round of cultivation, we don’t reap much.”

Some farmers in Chali also said that, although such insect infection first occurred a few years ago, the situation worsened over the years, with the insects going viral and impacting the yield.

Farmer Dorji, 30, in Mongar Hurungpam, who had cultivated maize on her four-acre field, usually earns more than Nu 50,000 selling tengma.  This year she has no hope of selling any.

Farmers in Mongar are still re-cultivating maize with a hope to have a good harvest. “Next year, if things don’t improve, the farmers are expecting a food crisis in the village,” she said.

Mongar gewog’s agriculture extension officer, Ugyen Tshering, said that army worm is just one of many varieties of cutworms that destroy many low-laying plants and lawns.

He said the worm can rapidly do significant damage, but said they had supplied chemicals to the farmers to kill the pest.  Dzongkhag officials also went to Thimphu to fetch more chemicals and were expected to return yesterday.

Farmers in Mongar usually cultivate maize in March and harvest their first yield in June and July but, in some gewogs, such as Chali, they cultivate maize twice.

By Dechen Tshering, Mongar

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