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A fungal biopesticide to prevent and control locust swarms

Theme: Biocontrol agents

Dozens of desert locusts roosting in East Africa
Roosting desert locusts Schistocerca gregaria in East Africa © CABI

Biocontrol agents have the potential to control effectively even the most destructive pests. In recent years, a fungal biopesticide has been used on a large scale to control the desert locust in Africa. In addition to being less harmful to the environment, one of the advantages of bioprotectants, the fungal agent prevents significant economic losses.  

The desert locust pest

The desert locust, Schistocerca gregaria, is one of the world’s most notorious and severe agricultural pests. The pest is problematic in numerous countries in Africa and Asia. Locust swarms are particularly destructive as they attack a wide variety of crops and can decimate entire crops and pastures.

The desert locust is responsible for extensive yield loss. It threatens food security and people’s livelihoods. It also feeds on wild plants, having disastrous consequences for the environment. The desert locust is also extremely dangerous because it can travel long distances, up to 140 kilometers a day. It can then quickly spread to all fields in the region.

If not controlled successfully, this pest can not only cause enormous crop and economic losses, but it can also establish itself in new regions.

A microbial biopesticide against locusts

Microbial biocontrol agents have been developed and used to control various locust and grasshopper species, including the desert locust. The products contain a fungus called Metarhizium anisopliae. Green MuscleTM is one product that CABI has been working on with Elephant Vert.  

The microbial biopesticide is sprayed on locust individuals. The fungus infects locusts and starts to grow inside them. In the first few days, locusts become weak. They feed less and move slower. It makes them easy prey for birds and other predators and prevents them from spreading too much. This already reduces crop damage. Eventually, the locusts die from the infection.

Two dead locusts infected by a Metarhizium fungus
Locusts killed by a Metarhizium sp. fungus © CSIRO via (CC BY 3.0)

Efficacy and benefits of the microbial biopesticide

Green MuscleTM is particularly effective as it can kill up to 90% of treated locusts within three weeks. This pathogenic fungus prevented substantial losses during several outbreaks in recent years. For instance, it was used in 2019 and 2020 in Northeast Africa on over 230 000 thousand hectares.  

Green MuscleTM has several advantages. It is more effective than conventional chemical pesticides when used correctly (i.e., on young generations). Although chemical pesticides immediately kill locusts, the population rises again shortly after. So, in the long term, they are less effective. 

The fungal biopesticide has more long-lasting effects for many reasons. The fungus can spread from infected to healthy locusts. It can also survive in the environment for several weeks, even months, and continue to infect. This means there is less need for a re-application.  

Green MuscleTM can also control locusts resistant to chemical pesticides, a phenomenon becoming more common. In addition, the biopesticide is also effective against various locust species, such as the desert locust, the red locust, the Sahelian tree locust and more.  

Future prospects

Climate change is considered to be the main reason for recent locust outbreaks. They can thrive in extreme weather events. Using biocontrol products that are less harmful to the environment is necessary to avoid contributing to the problem.   

Good monitoring practices are essential to ensure the efficacy of biopesticides such as Green MuscleTM. Early spotting of locusts means that biopesticides can be used quickly, avoiding those outbreaks.

More information:

To find registered bioprotection products, browse the CABI BioProtection Portal.

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