This week's blog introduces Dr Charuwat Taekul who is a senior entomologist working at the Entomology and Zoology Research Group of the Plant Protection Research and Development Office in the Department of Agriculture (DOA) of Thailand.
What is your training and experience in this field and what does your current role entail?
After my recruitment to the DOA, I worked in the field of biological control looking at the use of microbial insecticides, e.g., BT, NPV to control lepidopterous pests, especially Spodoptera species, for almost 8 years. I then obtained a 6-year scholarship from the government to finish my Masters and a PhD at Ohio State University in the United States.
For my graduate project, I discovered more than 30 new species of parasitoids in the family Platygastridae and employed molecular data to get better insight into the subfamily Telenominae. Upon returning back to the government in Thailand, my research has primarily been focused on the taxonomic exploration of parasitoid wasps to control insect pests in Thailand. Besides parasitoids, I am currently the chief of insect collection and I am mainly responsible for curating specimens as well as museum management. One of my projects over the next 3 years is to research grasshoppers as a new protein source (“edible insect as novel food”).
What work are you and your organisation currently undertaking related to FAW?
Over the last two years since FAW arrived in Thailand, the Entomology and Zoology Research Group has acted, undertaking urgent research in several dimensions. At first, we looked at how insecticides, as well as physical control, could alleviate the situation. Despite FAW being an alien invasive species, we believe it will eventually become the local pest to the region. Therefore, we are currently working on sustainable control with a focus on exploring how we can exploit biological control strategies.
Is FAW infestation better or worse this year than last year?
Fortunately, the FAW infestation this year is better than last year, with the number decreasing by 60 per cent from last year.
What do you think are some of the barriers to biocontrol of FAW in Thailand?
In my opinion, the principal factor for the successful uptake of biological control is the farmers. Farmers need a better understanding of biological control, including how it can be implemented with other control methods, such as cultural, mechanical, and physical controls. An IPM approach needs to be taken - but we need to educate farmers more on how that can be implemented and ensure that it is cost-effective.
What are some of the most serious plant pests and diseases currently present in Thailand?
Five of the top plant pests and disease present that we must manage, include:
Fall armyworm Spodoptera frugiperda
Sri Lanka Cassava Mosaic Virus (SLCMV)
Coconut Leaf Beetle Brontispa longissimi
Coconut Black Head Caterpillar Opisina arenosella
Pink Cassava Mealybug Phenacoccus manihoti
What do believe are some of the ways that we could better assist farmers to manage FAW?
Improving the knowledge base of farmers is the key to both improving the understanding of the importance of biocontrol and ensuring its implementation. I believe if we randomly asked farmers today regarding their knowledge of IPM that many would not be very aware of natural enemies or biological control. We must also try to involve farmers and local communities in our work more to ensure we can create sustainable solutions that meet their needs and capability.