WJTV News Channel 12 - Virginia Tech-led intervention saves up to $309 million for Indi

Virginia Tech-led intervention saves up to $309 million for Indian farmers, consumers

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Photo Courtesy Virginia Tech Photo Courtesy Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech researchers reports a value of $309 million for the first year and an estimated $1 billion over the next five years in crop savings for their efforts to stop an insect epidemic that has devastated farmers and consumers in India.

The papaya mealybug has torn through crops, causing mold and stunted growth, in southern India since 2006. 

According to a Virginia Tech press release, Rangaswamy “Muni” Muniappan of Virginia Tech identified the insect and led the control program.   Muniappan heads up the federally funded Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab program at Virginia Tech and said that India’s first attempts to exterminate the papaya mealybug were unsuccessful.

“The government and farmers tried spraying pesticides, but crop losses kept getting larger.  It was clear to us that this was a case not for poisons but for natural, biological controls,” Munaippan said.

The successful biological control focused on using three parasitic wasps from Mexico, which are natural enemies to the papaya mealybug.  These wasps lay their eggs inside the mealybug larvae, and then the wasps eat the larvae upon hatching.

A University of Florida entomologist, Marjorie A. Hoy, applauds the efforts of the Virginia Tech study as a significant contribution to the protection of U.S. crops.

“It’s impossible for regulatory agencies at the borders to inspect and remove any infested material – they try, but it’s impossible to do it all.  I’m happy to hear that [Virginia Tech scientists] conducted an economic analysis.  That is so often missing in biological-control projects.”

The papaya mealybug was first identified in Mexico.  It was later found on St. Martin Island in 1995, and in 2000 it had been found in several locations including Florida and South America.  The pest continued to spread, reaching Guam in 2002, Hawaii in 2004 and to India in 2006.

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