USAID offers Shs 1bn in prize money for armyworm solutions

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is offering prize money for ways to combat the fall armyworm, a crop-eating pest that has spread across sub-Saharan Africa.

The USAID warned last week the pests threaten the livelihood of millions of African farmers.

“It is targeting maize, a vital staple crop for many families in Africa, and we are calling up on our partners to mobilize their solutions to work with us to control fall armyworms,” said Regina Eddy, coordinator of the Fall Armyworm Task Force at the USAID Bureau of Food Security.

The agency is offering a prize of $150,000 (about Shs 556 million) for the most viable solution, two awards of $75,000 (about Shs 278 million) to the “most promising” solutions, and two awards of $50,000 (about Shs 185 million) to an “early stage” solution that shows the most potential.

“USAID is looking for the best ideas, best digital tools to combat the pest and disseminate information and technology to help farmers manage it,” Eddy said.

Agriculture experts say the fall armyworm – the larvae of a type of moth – could cause more than $13 billion in crop losses in Africa this year. The moths are comfortable with hot climates and can travel hundreds of miles per day when carried by wind.

The pests originated in the United States, where they usually attacked crops during the autumn months. In Africa, experts say they could attack throughout the crop cycle and might deserve a new name.

The moths mainly consume maize, the staple food in some 300 million homes across the continent, but USAID says they attack 80 other types of crops, including sorghum, cotton, rice and sugarcane. Last year, some African farmers trying to save their crops had to remove the pests by hand.

Armyworms have been identified in more than 35 sub-Saharan African countries in the past year.

“We are still tracking the prevalence, and that may increase,” said Eddy. “It has just arrived, it is setting up its habitat.”

Currently, scientists are researching pesticides, landscape management methods, varieties of maize and genetically modified crops that might stop the pests from consuming crops.

USAID says the final prize winners and money will be announced in the fall, and individuals can apply for the prize at this site:

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