In major breakthrough ‘green’ pesticide successfully tested against locusts
An environmentally friendly weapon against locusts using a natural fungus that kills the crop-devouring insects in one to three weeks has been successfully tested under large-scale field conditions for the first time, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.
“This successful large-scale test is a major breakthrough in the battle against locusts,” FAO's Plant Protection Service Chief Niek van der Graaff said of the field trial organized jointly by the agency and the Algerian plant protection authorities near El Oued in eastern Algeria.
The new control method uses a natural fungus, called Metarhizium anisopliae, which infects locust hoppers in such a way that they stop feeding and die in one to three weeks.
The biopesticide, labelled Green Muscle, was sprayed on more than 1,400 hectares of land infested by locust larvae. The insects were clearly weakened and started moving slowly after four days and were then eaten by birds, lizards and ants.
The trial was conducted under optimal temperatures that favoured the development of the fungus. More field testing under less favourable conditions is required to explore the potential and limitations of the product.
“While previous tests on the efficacy of Green Muscle for Desert Locust control were only conducted in laboratories and on small plots of land, this trial now proves that the fungus can be successfully applied by professional plant protection teams over a large area,” Mr. van der Graaff said. “This shows that Green Muscle is a realistic alternative to conventional pesticides.”
A number of challenges to widespread use of Green Muscle remain. To protect food crops from imminent locust attacks by hoppers and swarms, conventional pesticides are still required because they kill the locusts quickly. Green Muscle cannot be applied on locust swarms.
While most conventional pesticides kill locusts immediately, the fungus in Green Muscle may need up to three weeks to grow within the body of the insect and finally kill it. Production is still very costly compared with chemical pesticides but a larger market could lower costs significantly. Unlike conventional pesticides, Green Muscle requires minimum safety measures and less personal protection equipment.
In the 2004-2005 locust upsurge, the greatest threat in more than 15 years, affecting 16 countries mainly in North-west and West Africa, about 12.8 million hectares of infestations were treated with pesticides.