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Protecting crops without pesticides

The African armyworm is an infamous caterpillar pest of cereal crops. Outbreaks occur most years throughout sub-Saharan Africa, with the majority in primary outbreak areas in Tanzania and Kenya. Around 70 per cent of farmers in outbreak areas are devastated by this pest as they cannot afford to buy pesticides.

The Sustainable Agriculture Research for International Development (SARID) programme, funded by BBSRC and DFID focussed on translating UK research in crop science into practical solutions to benefit the developing world by tackling some of the world’s most notorious pests and diseases.

Research led by Dr Kenneth Wilson at the University of Lancaster found that the secret may lie in the changing seasons. The international team, made up of researchers from the UK, Canada and Tanzania, discovered key knowledge about the natural ecology of a virus that infects armyworm which could be used to enhance food security without the need for chemical pesticides. By applying the virus as a biopesticide early enough in the crop growing season not only protected vulnerable food supplies, but also allowed time for new stocks of the virus to be harvested for later use.

The work could help to protect communities of farmers where famine is a constant threat, building research capacity and expertise where it is needed most.

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