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New bugs, found in Kenya, can help to control major maize pests

The Conversation Africa

Insect pests, such as maize stemborers and fall armyworm, increasingly challenge food production around the world.

Huge demands for crops have meant agricultural systems have simplified and frequently focused on single crops. When fields are full of a single crop they can easily be found by their insect pests, as opposed to when the crop is mixed in with others. Because of this higher yield losses have more chance to occur.

Climate change - mostly increased temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns - and wild habitat reduction by farmers has added to this by increasing pest pressure and resurgence.

The rapid evolution of pest resistance to chemicals, an increasing organic food market and the negative effects of chemicals on the health of people and the environment, has increased the need to control insect pests biologically.

Biological control uses live organisms to kill or eat the pest insects. These organisms - called natural enemies or antagonists - are predators, parasites or micro-organisms which can bring disease and death.

Insect parasitoids are one form of biological control. These are insects which develop as parasites on other arthropods, mostly insects, causing their death or sterility. They can target each developmental stage of the insect: eggs, larvae or pupae. They’ve received increased attention because they are efficient, cheaper and offer a management strategy that safeguards human health and the environment.

Two species of these parasitoids have been discovered by us and our colleagues in Kenya. They have found to be efficient biological control agents against two major maize pests: the Cotesia typhae to control the maize stemborer, Sesamia nonagrioides, which has invaded France. And Cotesia icipe to control the fall armyworm, Spodoptera frugiperda, in Africa.

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