Feed the Future, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), took this measured approach in the Fall Armyworm Tech Prize. This prize was created to incentivize new digital tools and approaches to help African farmers identify and treat the invasive agricultural pest that is threatening the food security of about 200 million people. Following a rigorous application process that included 228 proposals, we selected a cadre of 20 promising teams to create and test digital solutions to sustain farmer productivity in the face of the pest. After field testing and expert evaluations, we convened our finalists to showcase their work and announce the winners at the November AfricaCom conference.
Some of us see the world in black and white. Joel Wipperfurth sees the world in heat maps. Well, the farming world at least. He remembers when his brain started thinking this way. It was over 10 years ago as an agronomy intern in southern Minnesota with the Land O’Lakes, Inc. crop inputs and insights business, WinField United. A soybean pest called aphid was new to farms in the Midwest.
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.
In 1996 in response to the first international meeting on invasive alien species, the Global Invasive Species Programme (GISP) a collaboration between the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI), the International Union for Conservation (IUCN), and the Scientific Committee for Problems of the Environment (SCOPE), was launched. In 2001, GISP published a Global Strategy on Invasive Alien Species, shedding light on the magnitude of these invasive plant and animal species—which destroy agriculture and habitat—and outlined a global-scale response. In addition, the Conference of Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity recognized the urgent need to address the impact of invasive species, and in 2002, COP6 included the adoption of Guiding Principles for the Prevention, Introduction and Mitigation of Impacts of Alien Species that Threaten Ecosystems, Habitats or Species.
Co-creation, along with human-centered design and lean startup, are innovative approaches that have risen to prominence in the development lexicon over the past five years. Some of us (myself included) have used “co-creation” without fully understanding what it means, simply assuming it is an event that brings various partners together to brainstorm ideas to solve a problem. Only when I attended the Fall Armyworm Tech Prize co-creation workshop from June 26 to 29, 2018 in Kampala, Uganda, did I fully grasp the nuances of co-creation, and realize the significant benefits it holds for end users of the co-created products.
During the second harvest in 2016, farmer Fred Kisubi lost everything. His region, Jinja District, Uganda, was devastated by fall armyworm. The unforgiving pest decimated approximately 95% of his maize crop within days, an estimated 18 million Ugandan Shillings (US $4,860) loss. Unfortunately, Fred Kisubi’s losses are not unique.
A digital revolution in agriculture is transforming the way in which farmers and other agricultural stakeholders operate, and could reshape the way farmers address emerging pests. At present, in sub-Saharan Africa, the fall armyworm pest has and continues to damage farmers’ livelihoods and crops across the region.
We thought you might be interested in joining us for a webinaron April 18, Wednesday, 1 pm GMT, to learn more about the Prize, better understand the problem of fall armyworm in Africa and explore the possibilities around digital solutions (the webinar will finish at 2.30pm GMT). Please see dial-in details at the end of the page.