Italian farmers are battling to save their fruit and vegetables from a plant pest that can wipe out entire orchards and fields at one sitting.
The Asian brown marmorated stink bug is particularly active in northern Italy, including areas hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
The voracious invasive species, believed to have arrived from the United States and Switzerland, caused an estimated €500 million in damage last year, according to the European Commission, which earlier this month approved emergency support to combat the pest in six Italian regions.
The situation is being made worse by the need to halt the monitoring of the bugs due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
The pest, known as Halyomorpha halys, gorges on more than 100 different plant species, and can leave fields of pears, peaches, nectarines, apples, kiwis, cherries and apricots in ruin.
Mariangela Ciampitti, of the Lom-bardy Regional Plant Health Service, quoted on the Politico website, said: “The financial resources currently available are not sufficient to com-pensate farmers for the significant losses caused by the pest during the last season.”
The Lombardy region has spent more than €10 million on protective nets in a bid to keep the stink bug out of orchards and the Italian government has approved the introduction of the pest’s natural predator, the samurai wasp, in a bid to cut their numbers.
Ciampitti added: “Fighting the pest is necessary, regardless of the Covid-19 crisis, because the damage caused by the bug is very serious and often no longer sustainable by farmers.
“It is difficult, at this moment, to predict whether the human health emergency will have further negative influences on fruit and vegetables producer organisations.”