The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations has warned that Fall Armyworm, an invasive pest recently detected in India, could threaten the food security and livelihoods of small-scale farmers in Asia.

The UN agency said the insect was “highly likely” to spread, with southeast Asia and south China most at risk.

The Fall Armyworm was detected in Karnataka’s Shivamogga district in May. It is supposedly the first time it has been found in Asia, The Hindu reported on Monday. It has now affected nine agro-climatic zones in the states, said the English daily.

The insect can fly around 100 km per night and ravage crops all year round due to the region’s favourable tropical and sub-tropical climate, the UN agency said in a statement. It can infest around 80 crops, including rice, corn, vegetables, groundnuts and cotton.

“Fall Armyworm could have a devastating impact on Asia’s maize and rice producers –
mostly small-scale farmers who depend on their crops for food and to make a living,” said FAO Assistant Director-General Kundhavi Kadiresan, the organisation’s representative for Asia and the Pacific. “This is a threat that we cannot ignore.”

“Much of what FAO has already done in sub-Saharan Africa to help farmers and governments better monitor and mitigate Fall Armyworm damage can also be applied in Asia,” said Hans Dreyer, director of FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division. “This includes recommendations on pesticide management, monitoring and early warning, and a practical guide for farmers and government extension workers on how to best manage the pest.”

The Fall Armyworm is native to the Americas but spread across Africa, where it was first detected in early 2016. Earlier this year, many countries in North Africa reported infestations of this pest, which reportedly damaged millions of hectares of maize and sorghum.