USAID and partners award $450,000 to top digital solutions to combat an invasive agricultural pest in Africa
The U.S. Agency for International Development, Land O’Lakes International Development, and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research announced the six winners of the Feed the Future Fall Armyworm Tech Prize at the AfricaCom conference in South Africa today.
The prize, launched in March 2018, sought digital innovations that could help farmers manage the recent spread of fall armyworm — a voracious agricultural pest — in Africa. Fall armyworm has the potential to cause an estimated $2-6 billion (USD) in maize losses alone over three years.
Following a competitive co-creation and evaluation process and the field-testing of prototypes, USAID and its partners awarded prizes worth $450,000 to six organizations with digital solutions that will provide information to smallholder farmers and those who support them to identify, treat and track the incidence of fall armyworm.
USAID and its partners awarded:
- A grand prize of $150,000 to Farm.ink, a Nairobi-based start-up that has integrated a Fall Armyworm Virtual Advisor into its Africa Farmers Club mobile service. This online group and chatbot already provides more than 150,000 farmers across Africa with farming information. The new virtual advisory feature will provide specific information on how to identify and treat fall armyworm.
- $75,000 each to Akorion, a Ugandan agricultural technology company, for an enhanced fall armyworm diagnostic in its EzyAgric app; and to AfriFARM, an app by Project Concern International and Dimagi, a social enterprise based in Massachusetts.
- $50,000 each to Farmerline and Henson Geodata Technologies, both Ghana-based, and the Nigerian-based eHealth Africa, to further develop early-stage mobile applications that will provide tailored information for combatting fall armyworm.
The prize received 228 entries from organizations around the world, 80 percent of which were based in Africa. A diverse panel of global experts working in agriculture, technology entrepreneurship, and impact investment judged the entries and made final selections. The winning entries are working with smallholder farmers in Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana, and Nigeria, with the potential to scale solutions to other countries.
The prize is part of the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative, a global effort led by USAID to address the root causes of hunger and poverty in developing countries.
About the winners
Grand prize of $150,000 to the most viable solution:
- Team name: Farm.ink, Solution name: Fall Armyworm Virtual Advisor.
The Fall Armyworm Virtual Advisor is an interactive solution that provides knowledge on how to identify, scout, and treat fall armyworm to its users. The tool is integrated into Farm.ink’s award-winning mobile service, Africa Farmers Club, an online group and chatbot that enables more than 150,000 farmers across Africa to find information about farming. Through the Facebook Messenger platform, the solution gamifies learning and after completing trainings, allows farmers to access the FAW Scouter, a progressive web app that guides farmers through the scouting process. It then provides farmers with personalized recommendations for how to treat fall armyworm on their farms.
Two runner-up awards of $75,000 to the most promising solutions:
- Team name: Akorion, Solution name: EzyAgric, Country of Operation: Uganda
The EzyArmyWorm (EAW), an enhancement of the pest and disease diagnostic in the EzyAgric app, aims to assist farmers, extension workers, and agribusinesses in Uganda with early detection and accurate diagnosis of FAW. It uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to allow farmers to easily detect the pest across possible affected crops at any stage of the production cycle. With SMS and smart alert notifications, EAW provides farmers with constant reminders and real-time information on how to detect, manage, and address fall armyworm.
- Team name: Project Concern International and Dimagi, Solution name: AfriFARM (Africa Fall Armyworm Response Mechanism), Countries of Operation: Malawi and Tanzania
Built on CommCare, an existing digital platform designed for low-resource settings, AfriFARM provides accessible and actionable information about FAW to smallholders, lead farmers, and agricultural extension agents in Africa. The app provides learning modules tailored to user needs and capabilities on topics including management; identification; scouting; treatment options and safety considerations; and incidence reporting.
Three frontier innovation awards of $50,000 to early-stage solutions:
- Team name: Farmerline, Solution name: Crop Disease Prediction & Advisory Services, Country of Operation: Ghana
Crop Disease Prediction & Advisory Services (CdPAS) by Farmerline is a digital solution that allows end-users to access information on fall armyworm, engage experts on the pest, make incidence reports, and request inputs/services. CdPAS will leverage the audio-visual learning capabilities of local farmers by providing the simplified information via two channels: 1) An Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, which allows users to access content in their preferred local language and on any mobile phone; and 2) an android application that has media-rich content (photos, videos, infographics) on the pest.
- Team name: Henson Geodata Technologies, Solution name: Igeza, Country of Operation: Ghana
Igeza is a cloud-based mobile application that enables early detection and instant interaction with a control center. Igeza integrates location and audio-visual services used by the smallholder maize farmer to scout, scan and identify fall armyworm as well as map their farms. The call center connects all notifications to a pool of experts including entomologists, plant pathologists, agronomists, and extension workers who can analyze the evidence presented and recommend appropriate management responses, where needed.
- Team name: eHealth Systems Africa, Solution name: CornBot, Country of Operation: Nigeria
CornBot is an audio-visual mobile application that interacts with farmers in their local language, talking them through a process that helps them identify, control, and manage fall armyworm. It uses an image-based Q&A mechanism to engage farmers and empower them with information needed to combat fall armyworm. CornBot also aggregates data on the prevalence of fall armyworm, providing stakeholders with real-time data necessary for formulating evidence-based policies and intervention on the pest.
About the partners
Feed the Future: Feed the Future, America’s global hunger and food security initiative, aims to transform lives toward a world where people no longer face extreme poverty, undernutrition and hunger. To achieve this, Feed the Future works hand-in-hand with partner countries to develop their agriculture sectors and break the cycle of poverty and hunger.
Land O’Lakes International Development: Land O’Lakes International Development is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that leverages the farm-to-fork expertise of Land O’Lakes, Inc. to unlock the potential of agriculture to empower the developing world. Since 1981, Land O’Lakes International Development has implemented over 300 dairy, livestock and crops development programs in nearly 80 countries.
Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research: The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization established by bipartisan congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, builds unique partnerships to support innovative and actionable science addressing today’s food and agriculture challenges. FFAR leverages public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to enhancing sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. The FFAR Board of Directors is chaired by Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum, Ph.D., and includes ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation.