Unprecedented Pest Infestation Devastates Paddy Crops in Assam
Continuous warm temperatures in Assam have been identified as a key factor behind a severe pest infestation that has wreaked havoc on approximately 28,000 hectares of paddy crops across at least 15 districts. The affected crops, on the verge of maturity and ready for harvest, fell victim to the Mythimna separata, commonly known as the ear head cutting caterpillar, rice ear-cutting caterpillar, or armyworm.
Pest Behavior and Impact
The Mythimna separata is notorious for feeding on leaves and cutting off panicles at the base of crop plants, often leaving fields resembling areas grazed by livestock. During an outbreak, these pests multiply rapidly, forming swarms that move from field to field, resembling an army attacking crops. Although the presence of these pests has been reported in Assam for several years, the recent attack is unprecedented in scale, largely attributed to prolonged periods of elevated temperatures.
Climate Change Connection
Experts noted that increased temperatures coupled with dry conditions create favorable conditions for the rapid proliferation of pest populations. On November 22, temperatures in seven districts, for which data was available, were above normal. In Guwahati, the maximum temperature was recorded at 31.4 degrees Celsius, 4.5 degrees above the normal average for this time of year.
Global Climate Change Impact on Pests
Research indicates that a warming world, marked by changes in both temperature and rainfall patterns, significantly influences the spread and behavior of pests and diseases. A 2017 study highlighted that even small rises in global temperatures could lead to a reduction in the lifecycle of insects, resulting in higher pest populations, increased generations, expanded geographical range, and an extended development season.
Assam’s Crop Catastrophe and Future Concerns
While reports of damage caused by the ear head cutting caterpillar surfaced in 2016, the current infestation stands out due to its unprecedented scale and timing. The attack occurred at the final stage of crop development, leaving no room for recovery, according to Mridul Deka. Farmers across half of the state have suffered substantial losses.