The Brazilian ministry of agricultural development is warning farmers that GM Bt crops, pesticides, and monocultures are responsible for the plague of caterpillars that is devastating the country's agriculture.
The ministry is advising family farmers whose farms are close to GM crops and monocultures to take preventive measures. The ministry adds that the areas best protected from the pest are those growing a mixture of non-GM and non-Bt crops and native vegetation.
MDA [Ministry of Agricultural Development] warns farmers on appearance of the Helicoverpa caterpillar in crops
Ministry of Agricultural Development (Brazil), 9 Aug 2013
GMWatch translation from the Portuguese, shortened
Farmers from all parts of Brazil should be aware of a pest that can damage crops. Due to inadequate farming practices associated with the excessive use of pesticides and transgenic Bt plants, the incidence of the bollworm Helicoverpa armigera has grown. This caterpillar has a complex structure with high adaptability and can attack crops and native plants in several regions of the country.
The occurrence of Helicoverpa, mainly in the Brazilian Cerrado region, was observed from February last year. Serious economic losses were recorded on cotton fields in western Bahia, and other crops and regions were also affected. According to the general coordinator of Risk Management and Rural Security of the Office for Family Farming of the Ministry of Agrarian Development (SAF/MDA), José Carlos Zukowski, the biggest problem occurs in areas of extensive monoculture - vast expanses of the same type of plant.
"Where there have been big advances of monoculture and the intensive use of pesticides, there are no suitable conditions to develop insect predators that fight the caterpillar, which would be a form of natural biological control. Where there is a mixture of different crops, non-transgenic crops without the Bt toxin and native vegetation, there is just no space for the predators to develop, which are important to combat the plague [of caterpillars]," he explains.
There is no record of major attacks by this caterpillar on family farms. But Zukowski highlights that producers should be vigilant, especially those who are close to large monoculture crops with pesticides or GMOs.
The general coordinator of the Department of Technical Assistance and Rural Extension of the MDA (Ater), Everton Ferreira, teaches some practices in case of attack. "First, seek the advice of the local Ater office. The farmer should always seek technical guidance, take samples, and discover the extent of the problem," he advises.
Another guideline is planning the cultivation area, paying attention to some aspects such as planting date, biological control, and refuge areas (for those using transgenic plants with Bt toxins, the refuge area may be a neighbouring crop of the same or similar species, without the Bt toxin and without application of the associated pesticides).
As there are as yet no significant occurrences of Helicoverpa on family farms, Everton explains that this work is preventive. This is where continuous monitoring of pests comes in, one of the ways to combat pests. But, in cases where a farmer is affected, Everton says that the MDA has partnerships and agreements with entities with technical assistance that can help him confront the problem. "If the farmer does not find a technician or office in your county, you can look in the next county. The service is free," he adds.
Zukowski warns family farmers about the use of agrotoxics to control the caterpillar Helicoverpa armigera. The producer must seek, above all, the guidance of an Ater technician, because depending on the degree of infestation and other conditions of the crop, it is possible to implement a biological control.
This caterpillar easily acquires resistance to pesticides. "Simply using these products tends to generate greater resistance. There may even be an effect of combatting [the pest] at first, but then it becomes ineffective. So you must use integrated management to combat this plague," he says. It is recommended to seek coordinated action in the community, because the isolated action of one farmer may not be enough.
In the latter case, depending on the spread of the caterpillar, Everton Ferreira acknowledges that the use of pesticides can be done. "If a problem arises with certain intensity, then it is necessary to use poison. But analysis is required. It depends on the intensity and proximity to those areas with large monocultures," he notes.