Farmers left destitute by Sena Catterpillar

Farmers left destitute by Sena Catterpillar

Farmers left destitute by Sena Catterpillar

Written by Staff Writer

18 Jan, 2019 | 11:51 am

Colombo (News 1st) – Agriculture is the backbone of the Sri Lankan economy. Our economy has taken massive dips anytime our agriculture sector is affected due to natural disasters. Likewise, whenever we have a good harvest year, our economy improves.

The world bank reported that Sri Lankan achieved an economic growth rate of 3.9% in 2018 on the back of a recovery in the agriculture and service sector. However today our agriculture sector is under siege.

Disaster in the making

Over the past few weeks, News1st has been reporting on the exploits of the Sena Caterpillars also known as the Fall Army Worm that has taken our crops hostage. The caterpillar laid waste to over 33,000 hectares of farmlands in Ampara last year and has destroyed nearly 50% of the country’s corn cultivations. Corn is not the only crop that is under siege, this insatiable pest also has a sweet tooth for 180 different plant varieties grown in Sri Lanka for agricultural purposes.

The Department of Agriculture has taken steps to assess the situation and had even deployed new technologies such as crop dusting through the use of drones in an attempt to curb the spread of Sena, however their efforts are yet to pay off fully. The main issue is that this invasive species has no predator in Sri Lanka and as a result of this it is spreading unchecked.

The Agriculture Department’s current recommendation is to burn down crops which have been overtaken by the caterpillar. The Department believes that Sena is capable enough to adapt to any climate and has warned against the excessive use of pesticides which could bring about the creation of strains resistant to pesticides.


The caterpillar that is native to America, was later detected in Africa, several years ago. After destroying crops across Africa, this caterpillar species made its way to India, during the first half of last year.It is believed that the Sena Caterpillar spread to Sri Lanka from our immediate neighbor, India.

The Sena Caterpillar is the larvae stage of the Fall Armyworm moth or Sena moth. In its moth form, the invasive species can fly up to around 100km each night with the assistance of air currents. This makes containment as well as eradication extremely difficult.

With the aim of creating awareness on the dangers posed to our food industry Gammadda together with the Department of Agriculture and the Peradeniya University has launched a fact-finding mission to assess the situation and find a solution.


During our journey today (Jan 18) we encountered the village of Puskiula in the Ampara district. Farmers in Puskila cultivated a total of 4264 hectares of corn this season, over 3/4 of the cultivation (3556 hectares) has already been destroyed by the Sena caterpillar, according to the Department of Agriculture.

The ancestral cultivation lands of the Puskila farmers lie in the Badulla district across the Maduru Oya. They travel to their cultivations on a daily basis amidst great difficulties.

The farmers of the area explained their plight to the Gammadda teams. One farmer explained that this corn cultivation that has been destroyed sustains the families of these farmers for a year. He explained that with their crops destroyed they fear that they won’t even be in a position to send their children to school.

Another farmer stated that she is struggling to pay off bank loans obtained to cultivate the land. Another farmer noted that 15 acres of her cultivation has been completely destroyed by the caterpillar. The farmers requested the Government to provide them with some respite in order to allow them to cultivate their lands next season.

Gammadda teams in Anuradhapura and Moneragala are also traveling across rural settlements to gather more information on the Sena caterpillar.

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