The fall armyworm (FAW) is a polyphagous insect pest which feeds on maize and on more than 80 crops, including sorghum, millet, sugarcane, vegetable crops and cotton. It is a transboundary pest able to fly over 100 km in a single night.
Native to the Americas, FAW was first detected in West and Central Africa in early 2016. Within two years, it had spread to almost all of sub-Saharan Africa. Now the pest has been confirmed in Sudan, Egypt and Yemen, as well as in many Asian countries including India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Viet Nam, Cambodia, the Republic of Korea and Japan. By May 2020, it reached Australia, Mauritania, Timor-Leste United Arab Emirates. This invasive, strong-flying insect pest continues to spread.
FAW causes considerable yield losses in maize and in other key staple cereal crops, such as sorghum, millet, and wheat, threatening food security and the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers and consumers. It is estimated that, for 12 African countries alone, FAW could cause losses of 8.3 million to 20.6 million metric tonnes of maize annually, equivalent in value to USD 2.5 billion to USD 6.2 billion, and enough to feed 40 million to 100 million people.
Population migration to urban cities from rural agrarian communities is most likely to result from FAW infestation, demonstrating that it is a major threat to food security and the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest.
Another major problem associated with FAW infestation is the increased use of hazardous pesticides, as these represent an immediately available solution to farmers but, at the same time, are harmful to humans, animals, aquatic life and environmental health.
FAW is a major threat to crop production. It has a direct effect at the socio-economic level by negatively impacting food and income. It increases global food insecurity, malnutrition, and poverty among smallholder farmers.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) proposes a bold, transformative and coordinated Global Action for Fall Armyworm Control. A total budget of USD 500 million is needed to implement the Global Action in 65 target countries in Africa, Near East and Asia-Pacific, from 2020 to 2022. This equates to an estimated USD 450 million for the Global Action and USD 50 million for global coordination.
The goal is to improve food security and the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers as well as reduce environmental pollution through management and control of FAW. The programme will produce several outputs that will lead to the following outcomes:
1. global, regional, national and farmer-level coordination and collaboration on FAW control are enhanced, resulting in implementation of ecosystem-friendly integrated pest management (IPM) practices and policies;
2. reduction in crop-yield losses caused by FAW;
3. prevention of the further spread of FAW to new areas.
The Global Action builds on the work and lessons learned from the FAO FAW Strategic Framework, which started in 2017. The Framework established a partnership for the sustainable management of fall armyworm in Africa, the Near East and AsiaPacific, dealing with FAW management and testing ecosystem-friendly pest management practices, monitoring and early warning systems, innovations, enabling policies and coordination mechanisms.
The Global Action will strengthen national governments’ capacity for immediate support to farmers, policy and capacity development on integrated pest management (IPM) and community-based actions, highlighting the fact that there is no single solution to manage FAW and that empowerment in FAW management comes from the provision of knowledge. Science-based information is critical to empower farmers, extension workers, regulators and policy-makers to be able to implement management options with a good understanding of risks and benefits.
A radical change is needed to turn the awareness of the problem into action and solutions. The global community must mainstream funds and capacity and act faster than the spread of FAW itself. Farmers, research partners, academia, the private sector and NGOs are all called upon to contribute to the Global Action and to ultimately achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including Sustainable Development Goals 1, 2, 3, 5, 12, 13 and 17.
Let us work hand-in-hand to control the global menace of FAW.