New Delhi (CNN)After leaving a trail of ruined crops in Africa and the Americas, an invasive worm has been found in India, prompting concern that it could have a devastating effect on the country's agriculture.
After wreaking havoc in Africa, 'impossible to kill' crop-destroying worm reaches Asia
Fall armyworm, a pest which feeds on maize and other key crops, has been detected in the the state of Karnataka, according to officials. In neighboring Tamil Nadu, about 15% to 20% of the maize crops on the campus of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University showed evidence of the worm.
It has already ravaged a dozen or so countries in Africa, with some areas of Zimbabwe suffering up to 70% crop destruction. According to the Center for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) and the UK's Department for International Development, African nations stand to lose between $2.4 billion and $6.1 billion due to the worm.
Indian officials and observers are fearing a similar effect on the subcontinent.
"This will certainly spread to India's neighbors to the east," said Roger Day, program executive of Action on Invasives at CABI.
He said that East and Southeast Asia has plenty of "environmentally suitable" areas where the pest can thrive, including Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, and China.
And there's little anyone can do about it. Previous and costly attempts to stop the worm have been largely unsuccessful.
With the worm detected in at least two states so far, SK Jalali, a scientist at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), said he and his colleagues are bracing themselves for the worst.
"How the worm will spread, we do not know yet," Jalali said.
Labs across India have been alerted and told to conduct surveys of their own, but it may be too late to stop the worm's expansion.
"It looks like that it has already been present for a while. I would not be surprised if it has already spread past Karnataka," said Day.