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Harnessing sensor-based solutions to combat fall armyworm in India

Over the last two years, Crop Health and Protection (CHAP) has led a two-phased project alongside a multidisciplinary and international team, including Knowmatics, Ystumtec and CABI, and supported by consortium members, MSSRF, Tamil Nadu Agriculture University (TNAU) and Pushkaram College of Agriculture Sciences, to develop an innovative sensor-based pheromone trap to help effectively monitor fall armyworm (FAW) in India.

This game-changing feasibility project was kindly funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s (FCDO) Science and Innovation Network in New Delhi, India.

The Challenge

Fall armyworm, scientifically known as Spodoptera frugiperda, poses a significant threat to crops globally. Having already devastated cornfields in sub-Saharan Africa, this invasive species made its way to India around 2018. Its presence was swiftly followed by a rapid spread across the subcontinent, affecting maize cultivation in approximately 20 states. Intensive monoculture practices coupled with the emergence of pesticide resistant FAW have since been threatening the livelihoods of smallholder farmers around the country.

Fall armyworm

 Fall armyworm

To address this challenge, a coordinated sentinel network is urgently needed to predict pest presence accurately, supporting farmers and growers in anticipating risks. However, due to the lack of key datasets, the establishment of a reliable sentinel network could not be initiated. As such, implementing sustainable crop protection strategies that mitigate inputs and minimise risk will be crucial for its setup. Ultimately, bridging the data gap and equipping farmers with the tools required to face upcoming challenges posed by FAW infestations is pivotal.

Initial iteration of sensor node

Initial iteration of sensor node

Project Scope

The project was delivered in two phases, with the first phase (2021-2022) focused on:

  • Researching, designing and delivering the first iteration of the sensor node
  • Developing the data infrastructure and integration
  • Conducting initial field site identification, deployment and smallholder feedback in Tamil Nadu
  • Disseminating findings at multi-stakeholder workshops in Tamil Nadu

Outputs of this first phase demonstrated that the initial iteration of the novel pest sensor was able to transmit data from a field site in Tamil Nadu, where there is a high risk of FAW attack, to a farmer’s mobile phone. This phase showed that the novel remote sensing device could save farmers time, improve yields, and provide valuable intelligence of the presence of pests on farms.

The aim of the second phase (2022-2023) of the project was to build on this earlier work by transforming the hardware design and quantify efficacy of the device, through collaboration with MSSRF and Pushkaram College of Agriculture Sciences, so that we could establish datasets that correlate sensor signals and pheromone trap morphology with known pest species presence.

The approach included:

  • Defining, designing and implementing a wind tunnel experimental framework to help support trap development. This included delivery of suitable apparatus, facilities, protocols and knowledge transfer in collaboration with Pushkaram College of Agriculture Science, Tamil Nadu.
  • Designing, Building and delivering a working capability to fabricate trap designs for experimentation in the laboratory and field.
  • Designing and building a prototype sentinel network with resilience based on the findings of experimentation.
  • Designing a farmer centric user experience pathway and developing a progressive web app with initial risk reporting features for farmers and agronomy advisors.
  • Establishing of FAW cultures to support the development of the novel pest sensor.

Below we detail the methodology for delivering the aforementioned works.

Methodology

First, the team conducted an extensive literature review to research wind tunnel designs and protocols. Executed at Pushkaram College of Agriculture Science in Tamil Nadu, the work produced a detailed computer-aided design (CAD) model and comprehensive bill of materials (BOM). The BOM informed local material procurement within Tamil Nadu, while Ystumtec and Knowmatics supported with the wind tunnel construction using “t-slot” extrusion, polycarbonate sheet (Lexan), and standard ventilation fans. This approach ensured both functionality and local material accessibility. Additionally, the wind tunnel was outfitted with a computer and camera system for efficient experimental recording.

CAD design FAW

CAD design FAW

For the establishment of an effective fabrication capability, the project partners selected a range of tools and equipment such as a 3D printer and a small format laser cutter. This allowed the team to update the trap morphology based on user feedback.

3D Printer

Next, Ystumtec redesigned, built and tested a completely new version of the moth trap and sourced, configured and tested LoRaWAN gateways to be used as relay stations for use with the new design. Testing showed that data can be reliably received at least 16km range which means that a single gateway installed at Pushkaram College of Agriculture Science could cover more than 800km2 of land around the college.

New version of the trap

New version of the trap

To ensure the web application (developed in phase 1) was tailored for optimal use, the team next focused on enhancing the user interface and technical infrastructure. To effectively do so, a series of workshops were hosted to identify the key needs for the target audience – farmers, agronomy advisors and crop protection product distributors. The web application was constructed using JavaScript and the Heroku application development framework. A risk model was devised to predict FAW outbreak likelihood, facilitating early interventions and yield preservation. Factors influencing FAW life cycle and growth were considered, with temperature, crop factors, and FAW development informing the predictive model. Crop protection data incorporated commonly applied active ingredients to determine risk elimination period post-spraying.

Fall army worm mobile app

Fall army worm mobile app

Concurrently, a field experiment with maize was established with crop growth and FAW infestation monitored, and 30% crop damage recorded. The Pushkaram College of Agriculture Sciences, alongside guidance from CABI, developed methodologies for FAW larval collection and rearing. The work facilitated wind tunnel flight behaviour testing and life cycle study. A FAW culturing cabinet was established to observe pupae, adult emergence, and egg laying under controlled conditions. Additionally, a Y-tube testing facility was set up for further investigation.

Fall army worm in-field studies

Fall army worm in-field studies

To mark the end of phase two, a multi-stakeholder ‘show and tell’ event was hosted to provide a platform for farmers, growers, researchers, agricultural stakeholders and the local community to exchange insights, strategies and solutions to combat the challenges posed by FAW in India. The event showcased the ongoing efforts of the sentinel network invasive monitoring project, offered an introduction to CHAP, and featured presentations by CABI discussing the Plantwise program and plant clinic activities in the region.

FAW multi-stakeholder ‘show and tell’ event

FAW multi-stakeholder ‘show and tell’ event

Impact

The project has been a resounding success with the team achieving a series of key deliverables. These include the delivery of the updated trap morphology, which was supported through the establishment of new facilities and capabilities, as well as knowledge exchange and development of protocols.

The project also developed a comprehensive risk model for factors influencing FAW growth and lifecycle, and the design of a farmer-centric user experience pathway along with a progressive web app featuring initial risk reporting for farmers and agronomy advisors.

Furthermore, the establishment of FAW culturing facilities has supported the advancement of the novel pest sensor. Notably, the project has yielded valuable insights into device installation and user training processes, informing subsequent phases of iteration and testing.

For more information about the pest, visit the fall armyworm research collaboration portal.

To find out more about this project, contact CHAP at enquiries@chap-solutions.co.uk or visit www.chap-solutions.co.uk

 

 

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