The African Armyworm Baculovirus Project is a consortial project with partners in the UK and Tanzania. The main partner organisations are Lancaster University, UK; University of Greenwich, UK; EcoAgriConsult Ltd, Tanzania; and the Tanzanian Government’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.
The ultimate goal of the African Armyworm Baculovirus Project is to further our understanding of the natural interaction between an insect host, the African armyworm (Spodoptera exempta), and its virus (SpexNPV), with a view to determining the impact of the virus on its host’s outbreak dynamics and how this might ultimately be manipulated in a novel, Africa-wide strategic control system.
The funding for this research comes from a range of sources including The UK’s Department for International Development (DfID), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Current research is funded by the BBSRC-DFID’s Sustainable Agriculture Research for International Development (SARID) programme and DFID’s Research Into Use programme.
The SARID project is examining the spatio-temporal pattern of armyworm outbreaks, as well as variation in natural levels of SpexNPV in the wild (prevalence appears to vary from zero to nearly 90%) and molecular genetic variation in the vuirus. The RIU project is funding the building of a baculovirus processing plant (see below), which will take the crude SpexNPV-infected caterpillars and turn it into a dry powder formulation with a shelf-life of years. This project is also providing farmers in areas at high risk from armyworm attack with pheromone traps to monitor local moth activity (see photo below – the pheromone trap is hanging from the tree). The trap attracts moths that have migrated into the area and warns the farmers that armyworm infestations are likely in the coming few days. With this information they have time to acquire pesticide to control the armyworm and protect their crops. This ‘community-based forecasting’ approach has proved to be very successful. The RIU project in Tanzania plans to extend this network of local forecasters and ultimately to provide these communities with SpexNPV so that they can control the pest with a cheap and environmentally-friendly biopesticide.