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Armyworm Infestation

Pangasinan, Philippines

Lives destroyed as armyworms invade Philippine 'onion capital'

In the northwestern Philippine town of Bayambang, long known as the onion capital of Pangasinan province, an invasion of the crop-devouring armyworms has stolen farmer Merlita Gallardo's income - and her husband.

The family's half hectare (1.2 acres) of onion fields - which once brought them a lucrative income - has been ravaged by the pest since 2016, when rising temperatures helped drive a surge in armyworms, bringing devastation to hundreds of the area's farmers.

To combat the infestation, many farmers took out loans to pay the escalating costs of pesticides, racking up massive debts they have struggled to pay back.

As Gallardo's family watched the amount they owed climb to about 600,000 Philippine pesos ($10,290) her husband took his own life in January 2021.

"He drank pesticide to kill himself," said Gallardo, 49, who also grows corn, now the only crop she has to support her five children and to try to slowly pay off the family's debt.