New challenge prize aims to help farmers in Africa tackle fall armyworm

Today Nesta launched the Fall Armyworm Tech Prize to help farmers in sub-Saharan Africa combat the invasive, crop-eating pest, fall armyworm. Nesta is running the prize on behalf of Feed the Future, in partnership with Land O’ Lakes International Development and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research.

You may have never heard of fall armyworm, many people haven’t. But if you’re a farmer in sub-Saharan Africa, chances are you know what it is, and it’s bad news.

The pest

The fall armyworm is an incredibly invasive pest species that eats the crops that farmers depend on. Its capacity to rapidly spread and destroy crops is astounding:

It attacks more than 80 plant species, including maize, which more than 200 million people across sub-Saharan Africa depend upon

It transforms into a moth and can fly nearly 1,000 miles in just 30 hours (meaning it can easily migrate to neighbouring farms and countries)

It eats not only the vegetative parts of the plant, but the reproductive ones too, completely destroying plants

The devastation

Fall armyworm has been reported and confirmed in 46 of Africa’s 54 countries (reference). Since appearing on the African continent in 2016, it has already caused more than $13 billion in crop losses and could continue to cost $6 billion a year if not contained. Fall armyworm poses a significant threat to the food security of many people across Africa, particularly those in sub-saharan Africa.

The challenge

Various solutions to combat fall armyworm exist, but the challenge is that the best course of action depends on many factors: lifecycle stage of the pest, geographic conditions, and the availability of farming supplies to name a few. To complicate matters, overuse of pesticides could breed resistance. All of these factors mean that it’s crucial for farmers to get the right information when they need it most.

That is why the prize is focused on digital tools and approaches that provide timely, context-specific information that enable smallholder farmers and those who support them to identify, treat, and track incidence of fall armyworm in Africa.

This prize is calling innovators from around the globe to participate. The entry period is from 28 March to 14 May. Go to for more details to learn more about fall armyworm and how to apply to the prize.

The Fall Armyworm Tech Prize is run by Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre, which uses prizes as a tool to tackle the world’s challenges.


Liz Vossen

Liz Vossen

Liz Vossen

Programme Manager

At Nesta Challenges, Liz's experience spans the private and social impact sectors.

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