Tech fall armyworm solutions winners recognised

Saturday November 17 2018

A maize crop attacked by the fall armyworm. PHOTO | NMG

A maize crop attacked by the fall armyworm. PHOTO | NMG 

By PAULINE KAIRU
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Two companies from the region have been rewarded for formulating digital solutions to the invasive fall armyworm.

Farm.ink, a Nairobi-based start-up, took the top prize of $150,000 for the most viable way to combat the pest, which has had devastating effects on maize farms in Africa. Farm.ink integrated a Fall Armyworm Virtual Advisor into its Africa Farmers Club mobile service.

Ugandan agricultural technology company Akorion won $75,000 for an enhanced fall armyworm diagnostic in its EzyAgric app EzyArmyWorm.

The Feed the Future Fall Armyworm Tech Prize was launched in March, and awards digital innovations that help farmers manage the spread of the pest.

The US Agency for International Development, Land O'Lakes International Development, and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research announced the winners at the AfricaCom conference in South Africa on November 10. Six winners were awarded a total of $450,000.

Competitive

Following a competitive co-creation and evaluation process and the field-testing of prototypes, USAid and its partners looked at digital solutions that provide information to smallholder farmers and those who support them to identify, treat and track the incidence of fall armyworm.

The new Fall Armyworm Virtual Advisor feature is an interactive solution that provides information on how to identify, scout, and treat fall armyworm.

The tool is found on Farm.ink's mobile service, which enables more than 150,000 farmers across Africa to find information about farming. Through the Facebook Messenger platform, farmers are taken through the process of eliminating fall armyworm.

The EzyArmyWorm app assists farmers, extension workers, and agribusinesses in Uganda with early detection and accurate diagnosis of the pest. It uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to allow farmers to detect it at any stage of the crop production cycle.

Fall armyworm has proven to be one of the most difficult pests to control on cereal farms across sub-Saharan Africa.

Farmers are experiencing heavy losses affecting food security and trade. It has the potential to cause an estimated $2 billion to $6 billion in maize losses over three years.

The pest, an import from the Americas, was first reported in Africa in 2016, starting in the São Tomé and Príncipe islands and Nigeria. In just two years, it has spread to over 38 African countries.

The other winners were AfriFARM, an app by Project Concern International and Dimagi, a social enterprise based in Massachusetts, with a $75,000 prize; Farmerline and Henson Geodata Technologies, both Ghana-based, and the Nigerian-based eHealth Africa, which won $50,000 each.

The winning firms are already working with smallholder farmers in Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana, and Nigeria.