July 16, 2010 / 12:04 PM / 10 years ago

Wasp v mealybug: Thailand declares biological war

A wasp is pictured as it rests on a white flower at a public garden in the northern Spanish town of Santander August 18, 2007. REUTERS/Victor Fraile

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Thailand will deploy a 250,000-strong army of wasps in the northeast of the country from Saturday in a bid to get rid of bugs that have been nibbling away at its cassava crops.

Originally from South America, the mealybug feeds only on cassava and in 2009 destroyed 20 percent of Thailand’s cassava. The pest has also chomped its way into Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Rod Lefroy, an agricultural scientist with the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, said Thailand has raised a special army of wasps which are known to be particularly effective in wiping out the mealybug.

Researchers have tested the wasp on insects native to Thailand to see if it upsets the natural ecology, and so far, the insect appears to feed only on the mealybug, Lefroy says.

About 5 million growers across Southeast Asia supply cassava to domestic and foreign processing industries, which convert the root crop to animal feed and biofuels. Starch is also extracted for use in a wide variety of food and other products.

Thailand’s cassava makes up more than 60 percent of global exports of this root crop and generate more than US$1 billion (650 million pounds) of income for Thai farmers each year.

Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Jeremy Laurence

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