Last week, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s Thematic Network on Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems hosted an e-conference on the fall armyworm outbreak in Africa which brought together experts, stakeholders and other interested parties to discuss the challenges posed by fall armyworm and to evaluate the possible solutions.
Take a quick look at the map of the fall armyworm invasion. It gives you a good feel for the number of smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa directly affected by a small caterpillar eating their staple crop – maize – at a rapid rate. As a communication professional working in agriculture, it has been the first time I have found it so easy to explain my work – “ah yes, you are working on this ‘worm’… it is causing so many problems for farmers here” is the response I now get.
A major new report published by CABI has today revealed that losses due to fall armyworm are lower than projected in 2017 and the pest is still primarily focussed on maize rather than any other potential host crops. Better monitoring, swift responses by governments and farmers and an increase of natural enemies attacking the pest all help in mitigating the devastating crop losses it can cause.
Plantix is a diagnostic app that uses image recognition software and AI. It is being used to halt the advance of the fall armyworm pest.
An app that uses artificial intelligence to identify plant disease is being deployed in India as an early-warning system to stop the advance of a crop-destroying caterpillar that is having a devastating impact on maize crops in Africa.
CABI’s experts in the biological control of agricultural pests and diseases have conducted the first major study of potential biological controls that could be used in the fight against the devastating fall armyworm which recently arrived in Africa.
The crop damage caused by fall armyworm has put millions of livelihoods at stake across Sub-Saharan Africa. Its rapid spread has been projected to cause losses valuing $2.5 billion to $6.2 billion per year if left unabated. Fall armyworm has caused havoc for smallholder farmers across the region and become a serious threat to food security.
To help those affected, Feed the Future has been simultaneously trying to solicit new tools that communicate emerging research and information on how to battle the invasive pest to African farmers while also trying to ensure that those tools perform accurately and consistently. The Fall Armyworm Tech Prize is striking this balance–the competition is incentivizing innovators to submit solutions, but will only pay to reward those tools that are successfully tested in the field. One critical step in the prize process is testing to ensure that the 20 finalists selected actually work for the end-users’ contexts. Testing enables us to confidently say that the proposed solutions stand a good chance of mitigating the spread of fall armyworm.