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FAO’s global action to control fall armyworm outbreaks

FAO has advanced global action to control the spread and damage of fall armyworm, a voracious invasive species that is ravaging crops in Africa, Asia and the Near East

“We will need to step up the alliance among major partners from all relevant sectors at the global level,” FAO director-general QU Dongyu said while opening the first meeting of the Steering Committee of the Global action for Fall Armyworm Control.

As much as 18mn tonnes of maize are lost annually in Africa, enough to feed tens of millions of people and representing an economic loss of up to US$4.6bn. Over the past three years, FAO has spearheaded 63 Fall Armyworm-related projects, mostly in Africa, establishing many good practices and accumulating much valuable knowledge along the way.

The global action is designed to support and scale up those efforts through a strong and innovative coordination mechanism. If Fall Armyworm continues to expand, the role of maize in the world's food system could be seriously affected, the director-general said.

Innovation has a big role to play

The director-general pointed to an updated smartphone app developed by FAO and known as FAMEWS (Fall Armyworm Monitoring and Early Warning System) as a major tool, available in 29 languages, that channels valuable real-time and field-level information about the pest's location and spread to a global data platform every two hours, while also giving smallholder farmers specific tips on how to cope with and contrast infestations.

The steering committee brought together strategic leaders from governments, multilateral institutions, research institutes, civil society and the private sector, from five continents.

Its members' consultations are expected to help optimize the Global Action Plan ahead of a high-level conference planned to be held at the African Development Bank's headquarters in Abidjan in April.

The global action aims to reduce maize crop losses to three per cent from current levels often 12 times higher.

“It is an ambitious target because it has to be,” said Bukar Tijani, FAO assistant director-general, agriculture and consumer protection department.