By Daniel Gumm
CALM has returned toÂ Africaâ€™s Eastern bloc after swarms of invasive red locusts were checked by scientists using fungal biopesticides (Green MuscleÂ®), thanks to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and partners.
If left uncontrolled, a full blown invasion would have put a major setback on food security in that region, said Dr. Ignace Godonou, IITA Entomologist, who was part of the team that developed the biopesticide 14 years ago.
â€œWe are happy Green MuscleÂ® has proved effective in the control of locust and is now globally used.â€Last month, a rapid intervention using the biopesticide drastically reduced locust infestations in Tanzania and prevented a full blown invasion that could have affected the food crops of around 15 million people in the region, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
The biopesticide, which was developed by IITA technical led team under the LUBILOSA project â€” (LUtte BIologique contre les LOcustes et les SAuteriaux â€” Biological Control of Locusts and Grasshoppers) â€” has proved effective in the control of locusts in the Sahelian region including the Republic of Niger and Mauritania.
The environment-friendly alternative to synthetic chemical pesticides uses a natural fungus, Metarhizium anisopliae var. acridum whose spores are suspended in an oil solution, according to a former IITA scientist, Dr. J. Langewald et al in the Journal of Biocontrol Science and Technology published in 1997.
Dr. Godonou said initial field trials of the product were conducted in the Republic of Benin under the close watch of IITA scientists based in Cotonou, but the subsequent large scale field trials were held in Niger and Mauritania.
â€œMass production of the fungus for small to large scale field trials also started at IITA-Benin,â€ he added.The fungus weakens and kills the locusts in 10 to 14 days and the biopesticide is therefore more effective as a control agent.
â€œMoreover, it can persist in the ground for several weeks to a year after spraying continuing to attack and kill healthy locust and grasshoppers. The fungus is very safe and has narrow range of hosts,â€ said Dr. Godonou.
Apart from IITA, other lead institutions in the LUBILOSA project were the Commonwealth Agricultural Bureau International (CABI), Ascot in the UK, and the DÃ©partement de Formation en Protection des VÃ©gÃ©taux in Niger with many partners drawn from donors, several research institutes, national agricultural research and extension systems (NARES), non-governmental organisations, FAO, private sector companies and farmers.The Green MuscleÂ® was picked up by the commercial sector and is currently being produced in the Republic of South Africa.