Biopesticide puts invasive locust under control

Calm has returned to Africa’s eastern bloc after swarms of invasive red locust were checked by scientists using fungal biopesticides  known commercially as Green Muscle®.

If left uncontrolled, a full blown invasion would have put a major setback on food security in that region, said Dr. Ignace Godonou,  an entomologist, based at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), who was part of the team that developed the biopesticide 14 years ago. Now globally used, Green Muscle ® has since proved effective in the control of locusts.

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— (LUtte BIologique contre les LOcustes et les SAuteriaux – Biological Control of Locusts and Grasshoppers) — 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 and co-workers who published their findings in the Journal of Biocontrol Science and Technology 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.

“Mass production of the fungus for small to large scale field trials also started at IITA-Benin,” 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.

“Moreover, 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 a narrow range of hosts,” said Dr. Godonou. The Green Muscle® was picked up by the commercial sector and is currently being produced in South Africa. - IITA



September 2009