TRANSCRIPT: Telephonic Briefing on U.S. Development Assistance to Combat Fall Armyworm in Africa

Press Briefing with Bureau of Food Security Official Regina Eddy

For Immediate Release

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

 
U.S. Development Assistance to Combat Fall Armyworm in Africa

Via Teleconference, Washington, D.C.
April 10, 2018

OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by. Welcome to the Combatting Fall Armyworm in Africa conference call. At this time, all participants are in a listen only mode. Later we will conduct a question and answer session; instructions will be given at that time. If you should require assistance during the call, please press * then 0. As a reminder, this conference is being recorded. I would now like to turn the conference over to your host, Tiffany Jackson-Zunker. Please go ahead.

MODERATOR: Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from across the continent and thank all of you for joining this discussion. Today, we are very pleased to be joined from Washington, D.C. by Regina Eddy, Coordinator, Fall Armyworm Task Force at the USAID Bureau of Food Security. Ms. Eddy will be discussing Fall armyworm, its impact on the African continent, and how the United States government is working with global partners, including the private sector, to help affected countries respond to this invasive crop pest.

We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Ms. Eddy; then we will turn to your questions. We will try to get to as many of them as we can during the time that we have, which is approximately 45 minutes. At any time during the call, if you would like to ask a question, you must press *1 on your phone to join the question and answer queue. If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use the hashtag #AFHubPress and follow us on @AfricaMediaHub, @USAID, and @FeedtheFuture.

As a reminder, today’s call is on the record, and with that, I will turn it over to Regina Eddy, Coordinator, Fall Armyworm Task Force at the USAID Bureau of Food Security.

MS. EDDY: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us. This is an important topic, and we appreciate your interest. Allow me to frame the challenge presented by this new pest in Africa, the Fall Armyworm. After a few opening remarks, I’m very eager to take your questions and have a conversation so we can understand more about the important impacts to food security in Africa.

The Fall Armyworm poses a great challenge to agriculture in Africa, threatening food security and livelihoods. It has been identified in over 35 countries in the past year, in most of sub-Saharan Africa. The pest has the potential to cause billions of dollars in damage and put hundreds of millions at risk for hunger.

Agriculture has many pests already; so what is unique about this one? Fall Armyworm is resistant to many convention pesticides; it has a voracious appetite that particularly targets maize, which you all know is a vital staple crop for many families in Africa; and we continue to call upon our partners to mobilize their solutions, to work with us to control Fall Armyworm and support the capacity of African governments to manage the pest. In the United States we have decades of experience controlling Fall Armyworm, so the challenge is transferring that knowledge to African counterparts and opening the path for dozens of technologies to be validated and then scaled. In doing this, we believe that the evidence must guide the selection of these technologies, and that the choice ultimately belongs to the end user; that’s African governments and their farmers.

We’re responding by aligning the experience of many partners, beginning with our United States government agencies, who are committed to food security investments under Feed the Future. We’re working with partners and stakeholders that include the private sector, research institutions, universities, farmers, civil society organizations, and international multilaterals such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. It’s essential that we work rapidly and that we’re smart; that we align our resources and together support Africans in responding quickly to manage this outbreak.

Thank you, and I’m happy to turn it over to you for your questions.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Ms. Eddy. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. For those asking questions, please state your name and affiliation and limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing: U.S. development assistance to combat Fall Armyworm in Africa.

For those of you listening to the call in English, please press *1 on your phone to join the question queue. If you are using a speakerphone, you may need to pick up the handset before entering *1. For those of you listening to the call in French and Portuguese, we have received some of your questions submitted in advance by email and you may continue to submit your questions in English via email to afmediahub@state.gov.

Our first question will go to the listening party at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Operator, can you open the call, please?

OPERATOR: The line is open; please go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, my name is Samuel Geleto from Afro FM. What is being done, what kind of efforts are being done to early warn the unaffected areas, besides trying to control the affected areas?

MS. EDDY: African governments in general have responded very quickly. They’ve established task forces that include development partners and developed response plans, which are very helpful in setting priorities and allocating resources. Many have set up monitoring systems, some of them using a trap that detects the moth and can report on the increased activity in the given area of that moth. And then we’re working collectively to educate and train farmers - how to identify the worm, and then how to manage it in the field. Over time that’s going to involve a range of technologies that can control the pest before it damages the crop.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question came from the listening party at the U.S. Embassy Praia, Cabo Verde. The question reads: the Fall Armyworm, combined with the draught, is having a huge impact on agriculture in Cabo Verde. Does the U.S. have any plans to assist countries without active USAID missions?

MS. EDDY: Yes, we are working through a variety of ways to support all countries in sub-Saharan Africa. So as one example, we very rapidly developed a common pest management protocol, collecting experts from around the world and in Africa on simple steps that smallholders across sub-Saharan Africa can use. And to disseminate that information rapidly, we convened training and learning events in three places across Africa, and we will continue to do that. Those are open to all countries, and we recruit specifically the plant protection officers, extension staff, our own implementing partners, research scientists, to quickly build the knowledge base across every single country. There are a variety of tools that we are developing to now reach down to the farm level, that includes picture-based education, video clips, things that are very easy to translate into every African language and to disseminate through some of the smartphones and tools that are available, especially to lead farmers today.

We are also partnering with the Food and Agriculture Organization, our own development partners and donors, and the African Union commission. So we look at it as a continent-wide challenge, and we have that mandate to support fully.

Also, I want to mention we are launching a technology prize to develop the best digital tools that can be used by all farmers, all extension staff across Africa, and that prize competition is now launched and we hope through that to recruit some of the best ideas from farmers and practitioners on the ground in Africa; local solutions that they need to manage the pest. So through digital tools we hope to increase the blanket of coverage in responding, as well.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to Nico Van Burick, a journalist with Landbouweekblad in Pretoria, South Africa. Operator, can you open the line, please?

OPERATOR: The line is open, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Niko Van Burick, Landbouweekblad. I just wanted to ask whether the worms are more active this time of the year, since it’s called Fall Armyworm.

MS. EDDY: So in the United States, which has a slightly different climate, the pest is most active in the fall. So I have to admit, we gave it that name. In Africa, the pest will be active in most of sub-Saharan Africa throughout the entire year. So we might think of a different name for it, but it will be endemic and it will attack maize crops throughout the crop cycle. So it’s a bit of what we would call a misnomer.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to Kevin Kelley from Nation Media Group, Kenya, based in New York. Can you open the line, please?

QUESTION: Yeah, hi, thanks for doing this. So I have a couple of questions specifically about Kenya. How much danger does the Fall Armyworm provide, threaten to Kenyan agriculture? Maize, obviously, but other crops as well? Can you give a dollar figure, or some quantification of that? Also, why is this armyworm worsening now? Is it maybe related to climate change? Thank you.

MS. EDDY: Thank you. I can tell you what we understand about broad estimates on the continent. This is the first full crop cycle year, so we’re very eager to learn more and collect specific data, and we can reach back to you with the best information we have about Kenya.

I’ll tell you what I do know. It’s prevalent; it’s been reported by farmers across the Kenya area. We just engaged government officials from Kenya in a study tour to Brazil to look at different technology options that they might consider, so the government’s deeply engaged, very concerned, very interested in learning about what they can do to manage the pest.

The best estimates we have, which are confirmed by the experience in the Americas as well, is that the pest can consume 25-50% of the maize crop in a given year. It also attacks some 80 other plants, so very specifically we’re hearing reports of sorghum, cotton, sugar, and it can also affect rice. We’ve gotten reports of millet. So that is one of the concerns about the pest, is that there is a wide variety of host plants that it will feed on and destroy. It does prefer maize, and that’s also heightened the concern, because 300 million smallholder farmers depend upon maize as their staple crop, and of course that’s an important source of food and nutrition for their families.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go back to the listening party in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Operator, can you open the line, please?

OPERATOR: The line is open, please go ahead.

QUESTION: My name is Bereket Sisay from Ethiopian News Agency. I think you have mentioned that your country has a lot of experience combatting this Fall Armyworm in your country. So what are those knowledge or experience or technology that you’d like to share with African countries in general and Ethiopia in particular? Thank you.

MS. EDDY: So there are a range of technologies, and they fall into a couple of buckets that I can describe. So one approach is that the host plant resisting attack, so we’re researching hybrid varieties of maize that when the breeding was done, they were selected because they resisted an attack by the Fall Armyworm.

You also will know there’s genetically-modified crops that also resist Fall Armyworm. So that would be the host plant resisting the attack itself.

If the plant is attacked, people would move to a control method, so that can be a range of biological options - sprays or even predators that will eat the Fall Armyworm, and also to the use of chemical pesticides, some of which if they’re applied properly, are safe and if they’re applied following safety guidelines.

And the fourth bucket is a basket of approaches around managing your landscape. So I’ll give you a simple one. If you intercrop the maize with a bean, it seems to confuse the moth and it disrupts their ability to multiply. So there are some strategies and we’re working with scientists in Africa to test and validate them and then to look at the best options given the needs of smallholder farmers and to try to scale those applications.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question has come from Gilbert Koech from Radio Africa Group, Kenya. He asks, it has been apparent that farmers lack information regarding not only how to survey the worm but also how to manage it the moment it lands on the farm. From where you sit, how can farmers be better empowered?

MS. EDDY: You know, I can go back to our prize for digital tools and also talk about some of the work in digital technology that’s being done. So there, what we need to do - you are correct, those are the challenges - is to build the capacity of the farming community and the agriculture system that supports them, to rapidly identify the pest and then to select the best range of technologies for their needs.

People are probably familiar with the term Integrated Pest Management. For farms around the world now, people look at a range of technologies and how to balance them in a way that supports their control of the pest while limiting any adverse impacts to the environment and population. So we have developed an Integrated Pest Management guide, and from that now a series of dissemination tools that can rapidly reach farmers. It could include text messages once we get reports of high prevalence, radio, some of these picture-based little clips that can be sent over a phone that show very clearly how to identify the markings of the Fall Armyworm, how it’s unique from other worms they’ll find in their fields, and then you can tailor those to the actual growing cycle and what stage that field is at, so the next management option could then be pushed out through the same media transmission.

So many farmers - and the U.S. government is not the only one doing this, there are a variety of partners, we’re trying to align our resources and approaches - farmers are finding these tools helpful. They are now contributing to monitoring systems that some countries have set up, so they’re texting back the data they’re finding in their field, so we have a common protocol for how to scout a field and the kind of data that would be a norm, a standard across Africa to say “Here’s what the prevalence is.” And so slowly, over time, I think the appropriate monitoring system is being developed that will give African policymakers and the Ag system actors the data they need to support those farmers in managing the pest at each step of the crop cycle.

MODERATOR: Our next question will go to Gift Chapi, journalist at the Sahel Standard Newspaper in Abuja, Nigeria. Operator, can you open the line, please?

OPERATOR: The line is open, please go ahead.

QUESTION: My name is Gift Chapi, I’m calling from Nigeria. I’d like to know in what specific way is this program [UNCLEAR] countries? [UNCLEAR] especially [UNCLEAR]

MODERATOR: Excuse me, I’m sorry, Ms. Chapi. We have a very, very bad line. I’m going to take one other question and come back to you, and perhaps you can talk a little bit more closely to the microphone and we’ll try again. Operator, could you open the line to the U.S. Embassy in Accra, to their listening party, please?

OPERATOR: Your line is open, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hello. Hello. Hello, my name is Norman Cooper, I work for Ghanaian Times in Accra, Ghana. The U.S. has been able to control Armyworms in the Americas. Can you share your experience with us in Africa and in Ghana in particular, how can we go about controlling the pest, the Armyworm in Africa?

MS. EDDY: There are a range of technologies, and we do believe all the technology options should be on the table. This is why we recently brought delegations from ten African governments to Brazil. Brazil also has a high prevalence of Fall Armyworm and is successfully managing it, so this was a trilateral south-south partnership to build African capacity.

So we want to make sure that Africans understand the full range of technologies and that we support research and validation so they can select the ones most suitable for their farm communities and their needs, and that is a range of technologies from the best seeds that will have a resistance to the pest in the field, the application of a biological control if the pest does attack the plant, or if that’s not an option, a chemical control that can be used safely in appropriate doses to control the pest. And as I mentioned, there are some landscape options, such as intercropping, that reduce the attack of the Fall Armyworm. That’s the full range of technologies, and our view of partnership - and we’re working very deeply with experts in Africa as well as from the global community.

Those in the Americas, since they have such vast knowledge, have been very eager to come forward and help Africans in every way they can to transfer that knowledge. So we are working to help validate those technologies and to create the enabling environment so they can be properly regulated and then rapidly disseminated. All of this is with the aim of, as development partners, doing ourselves out of a job. We view this as a hand up and not a handout, which Africans have been welcoming.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll return now to Gift Chapi in Nigeria. Try one more time. Operator, can you open the line?

OPERATOR: Your line is open, please go ahead.

QUESTION: My name is Gift Chapi, I’m calling from Nigeria. I want to know in what specific way this program is helping Nigeria address the challenges they face in the agricultural sector considering the fact that the present administration is looking at improving Nigeria’s agricultural sector to help the economy. Thank you.

MS. EDDY: So we do have a Feed the Future program in Nigeria. They have been working on many of the steps that I’ve outlined, in particular to support farmers in understanding how to identify the Fall Armyworm pest and how to manage it in their field.

We also in Nigeria have supported a dissemination event through one of our very active research partners, named CIMMYT, and we are working to support the seed producers. So this is a very important part of the agriculture sector. The seeds are what determine the quality of the next year’s crop, and we have gotten reports, including in Nigeria, that those seed fields are being consumed by Fall Armyworm, and so we are working with seed sector companies in Nigeria and in other African countries to get the best training on how to manage, very early and very aggressively, the attack of Fall Armyworm so that we’re protecting seeds for Africa’s future.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to Christophe Hitayezu, editor at NONAHA.com in Rwanda. Operator, can you open the line, please?

OPERATOR: The line is open, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, I’m Christophe Hitayezu from Kigali. The Feed the Future and its partners are looking for digital solutions that help identify and provide actionable information on how to rid the Fall Armyworm in Africa. How many applicants have already submitted their applications? Thank you.

MS. EDDY: Could you repeat the last part of the question, please?

QUESTION: My question is, through Feed the Future and its partners, are looking for digital solutions that can help in the fight and provide actionable information on how to rid Fall Armyworm in Africa. I would like to know how many Africans have already submitted their applications.

MS. EDDY: Yes, so we’re in the middle of the actual submission process, and I don’t know - I’ve seen a lot of excitement from Africans, a lot have announced their intention to submit. I don’t have the number right here. At the point when the submission cycle closes, I imagine our press will release those numbers and report on the volume of activity. But I can say it’s been very robust, there’s been broad excitement from across Africa, and we are really looking forward to some of the solutions that come forward. Already, with the limited use of digital technology that we’ve been able to push out for the control of Fall Armyworm, we’re getting very enthusiastic support. We’re getting robust uptake on the part of farm communities, and there’s been a demand for more and more tools. More tools that farmers can use to understand how to identify the pest, and exactly how to manage it. So we look forward to sharing more of those details as the prize awarding process unfolds.

MODERATOR: Our next question will come from the listening party at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Operator, can you open the line, please?

OPERATOR: The line is open, please go ahead.

QUESTION: My name is Lucas from Standard Newspaper, Kenya. I would like to ask this question: is there any relationship between the outbreak of armyworm and climate change?

MS. EDDY: You know, I might get back to you after conferring with our scientists. We have a lot of very good scientists. I don’t know of any validated evidence base that draws a connection between those two. What we do know is that it’s a voracious pest; we know that from decades of experience in the Americas, going back 100 years, and what we believe is that that moth hopped a flight to Africa on some transport vehicle and now is multiplying rapidly across Africa, and we also know that the unique climatic conditions in sub-Saharan Africa match the ideal environment for the pest, and that is the region from - in the U.S. - our southern Florida all the way down to South America. So unfortunately, it has found a climactic zone where it’s very comfortable, and it will most likely live throughout the year. There will be no frost, for example, to kill off the moth and the eggs. So this is one of the reasons we expect it to become endemic and why we view it as a serious pest that requires an urgent response.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to Verah Okeyo, the Head of Media, London School of Economics Africa Summit. Operator, open the line, please?

OPERATOR: The line is open, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Alright, I would like to ask, what is the biggest challenge in trying to [UNCLEAR] Africa at the moment? What are they lacking in your opinion that is making it difficult for them to bring it under control?

MS. EDDY: I would say it’s two things. One is knowledge; they need to correctly identify the pest. It happens to look, in the worm phase, a lot like the African Armyworm. There are four distinct dots on the front end of the Fall Armyworm that would allow anyone to quickly distinguish it, but farmers need information like that. So I think basic transfer of knowledge is critical.

The second is to begin opening the doors to the flow of a number of valuable technologies that are being used in the Americas, and that requires a variety of things; so country governments, of course, want to see local surveys to validate the usefulness of those technologies. Some of those are happening; all of them need to progress rapidly.

And then we need to open up the policy and regulatory environment so that technologies can be correctly distributed, with standard norms and standard labels, and the end user can understand how to consistently and successfully use them. So it’s around knowledge dissemination and the flow of proven technologies, that the end user can decide what works for them.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to Kevin Kelley at Nation Media Group in New York. Can you open the line please, operator?

OPERATOR: The line is open, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks for the second try here. I was going to ask a follow-up about climate change, but you just addressed that, so let me instead ask you, to what extent do you think the armyworm and its impact on the maize crop specifically but you also mentioned that it attacks other crops as well. There are significant food shortages in a number of African countries, specifically in east Africa. How critical a threat is the Fall Armyworm in terms of exacerbating what’s already a serious problem of hunger in parts of Africa? Thanks.

MS. EDDY: Thanks so much for that question, it’s really something I did want to emphasize. It’s a serious threat. The global community is committed to food security, as well as decreased poverty in Africa and increasing the nourishment of the population. The Fall Armyworm’s arrival threatens our ability to achieve all three of those. So we need to increase productivity to match the needs of a growing population, and I’m afraid the first mouth that will be fed will be the Fall Armyworm in many fields.

Once there’s less crop yields from that field, there’s less that goes to the family table, so now we’re talking about reduced nourishment of our future population, and we know right now that has long-term liability for young people if they don’t get the right nourishment early in life, and it thwarts their ability to participate in their own development, frankly.

It also will impact income and trade, so less crop means less is going to market. This means that if farmers were earning marginal income, that disappears. They become vulnerable, and also trade in general diminishes, even within the region. Sometimes there’s a bumper crop in one area that can flow across the border and feed another area that’s possibly had a draught. That becomes threatened, and so we’re talking about food, income, and nourishment all being potentially threatened by the emergence of the pest. It’s a very serious, serious threat and one of the reasons we’re mobilizing so quickly to respond.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Just a reminder for our journalists: to ask a question, please press *1 on your phone. State your name and affiliation before asking your question. Next we’ll turn to the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Operator, can you open the line, please?

OPERATOR: The line is open, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you, I’m Fifai from the Daily Monitor newspaper. The Americans have successfully controlled the Fall Armyworm, how many years did it take and what about in Africa? How many years do you think it will take to control the armyworm?

MS. EDDY: I think you’re asking about how any years it will take. It’s a bit sobering, the answer. Farmers in the Americas are still actively managing the pest. When it’s endemic it means it’s in the fields; it becomes one more challenge farmers need to understand and manage every single day the way they manage access to rainfall or irrigation.

So we met just last week a range of farmers in Brazil, for example, that are managing Fall Armyworm, but given the tools available to them, they’re succeeding. So the crop losses are minimal, they can sustain those losses, and that’s what we want to see for Africa. So the pest will always be there; how long will it take for African farmers to manage it successfully is one of the challenges in developing agriculture. What we’d like to see is, through better technologies, better seeds, productivity increasing dramatically so it matches the yields that we can get in the Americas. At that point, even if there is some marginal damage from the Fall Armyworm, most of it will be managed, but if there’s marginal damage, it can be sustained because yields will triple or quadruple.

That’s all possible; the technology is there, it’s just a question of building the capacity within African countries, opening up their regulation, their systems, encouraging investment, both public and private, and then disseminating the best tools to the farm communities.

MODERATOR: Our next question will go to Felix Njini from Bloomberg News in Nairobi, Kenya. Operator, can you open the line, please?

OPERATOR: The line is open, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Just one question. When you say the pest is going to be becoming endemic, could you just tell us in terms of monetary loss, how much are African farmers in sub-Saharan Africa going to lose if the prevalence of the pest becomes endemic, as you say?

MS. EDDY: There was a study done on the potential losses for the maize crop in 12 African countries that was done in August of this past year, drawing upon the experience in the Americas as well as early experience in those 12 countries in Africa. The estimates for crop loss range between one quarter to one half of the crop. So it’s staggering.

Those are estimates. We’ll need to go through one or two more full crop cycles before we really understand the behavior of the pest in Africa. We believe it will be endemic, meaning that the eggs and the moths will exist in the farm fields throughout the entire year, and when conditions are beneficial they will go through the reproductive cycle. They will feed on the crops and they will damage and lower yields. But it will take a little time to understand the exact implications for Africa, but most experts believe that is the scenario that will play out.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to the U.S. Embassy in Accra, Ghana, to their listening party. Operator, can you open the line, please?

OPERATOR: The line is open, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, good afternoon. My name is Belinda Ayamgha, I work with the Ghana News Agency. So my question is a follow-up on the issue of food security and the impact of the worm on food security. You mentioned that it will definitely affect food security because crop yields will reduce and all of that. Can you give us an idea, in numbers, how the Armyworm invasion is impacting food security, particularly in Africa? And if you have any numbers on the Ghana situation, could you please share that with us?

MS. EDDY: We don’t yet have reliable data on crop losses that can be attributed to the Fall Armyworm. I can tell you what the challenge is. In most of Africa, we’re just undergoing the significant maize cycle right now, number one.

Number two, we’re still waiting - the pest is still embedding itself. Remember, it was identified in most of sub-Saharan Africa within the last 12 months. So we’re still tracking the prevalence, and that may increase. It’s just arrived, it’s setting up its habitat.

The third challenge is coming up with standard ways to measure the yields from a field and what the yield would have been without the Armyworm. We all know farming is a very challenging business and there are many reasons your yields can be reduced - based on climate, on rainfall, on other diseases, so it’s a particular piece of research to identify the damage and loss that’s due specifically to the Fall Armyworm. It’s going to take some time before the entire community evolves so that we have reliable data to answer the question.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We have time for just one or two more questions. If you would like to ask a question, please press *1 on your phone and state your name and affiliation before asking your question. Next we have Christophe Hitayezu, editor from Rwanda, again. Operator, open the line, please.

OPERATOR: The line is open, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. My name is Christophe Hitayezu from Rwanda, Kigali. The use of pesticides has impacts on the environment. I would like to know, especially if there is a good solution that can be used to combat Fall Armyworm without harming the environment. I’m curious because even beekeepers are saying the use of pesticides affected the production of beekeeping. I would like to know, what is the control management at the moment that can be used or pesticides that can be used to combat armyworm. Thank you.

MS. EDDY: So there are strategies. I think the integrated pest management framework, which the global community and Africans have supported, is using the right mix of technologies to reduce the adverse impact on the environment. So it’s a very important point.

One of the first beneficial approaches is to have the plant itself resist the attack. That’s possible with a GM - a genetically-modified - maize seed; the worm simply doesn’t attack it. I should mention, 85% of the commercial farmers in the U.S. and in Brazil use a GM seed. So right there you’ve protected the plant and you’re also protecting the environment.

As for biological controls, there are some remedies and approaches; they need to be tested and then scaled. They could be living organisms that attack the eggs; some consume the worm itself. The worm can be handpicked by farmers; it’s labor-intensive but it’s possible. And then there are biological sprays; there is also Bt spray that’s safe. It’s used by organic farmers in the U.S. and has no consequences for the environment and it’s highly effective. And I mentioned, also, you get some control with landscape options, such as interplanting with beans.

So there’s a range of approaches. They can be combined, and many of these trials are being done in different African countries right now just to validate that the same control will take place. Once that data is there, then the communities should look to scale those options.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to the U.S. Embassy listening party in Accra, Ghana. Operator, can you open the line, please?

OPERATOR: The line is open please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hello, my name is Eric Kwame Gyasi from First News Network. I would like to know especially with [UNCLEAR] percentage of effect that the worm has had on Africa, and also the solution for how long do you think that it is going to last?

MS. EDDY: So, many governments have reported prevalence of the pest in their fields; somewhere between 20 and 35%. Many governments are still working on the surveillance system, the monitoring systems, that would provide them with that data. This is all brand new. The prevalence, then, is leading to crop losses, but we don’t yet have a complete set of data on what the actual losses are. We need to wait a little bit for those systems to be developed.

MODERATOR: Our next question will go to Nico Van Burick from Landbouweekblad in Pretoria. Operator, open the line, please.

OPERATOR: The line is open, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Nico Van Burick. I just wanted to ask, is there any indication whatsoever on which countries in sub-Saharan Africa are affected most seriously at this stage?

MS. EDDY: Good question. We don’t yet have a comprehensive monitoring system across sub-Saharan so our data is uneven, country by country, so it’s very hard to forecast that. The pest seems to have arrived in the southern and eastern part of Africa and has migrated towards the west, probably following normal wind patterns. So we are seeing somewhat higher prevalence and damage in the south and the east of Africa, and we’re also seeing greater awareness because those countries have been struggling with it further. But I don’t think we have a picture of what this will look like yet in terms of prevalence and severity two or three years out, when we have a somewhat consistent picture that we can analyze. So we are still learning a lot.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We have time for just another one or two questions. We’ll go to the listening party at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Operator, open the line, please.

OPERATOR: The line is open, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, my name is Kennedy journalist East Africa. I’m just wondering whether we have any shared experience that was collected from the recent visit to Brazil, and then we get to understand some of the next steps that we think we have come up with. That would be helpful if you can share that. Is it possible Regina?

MS. EDDY: Yes, we’re very excited to share with the general community, our missions, and also with African governments on what some of the concrete next steps they may consider in their countries for response. We’re doing some of that work, and we’ll be reaching back to all of you with some very specific information and opportunities.

I can say simply, the next challenge is developing an integrated pest management plan at a country level. Only farmers and their communities and governments understand the unique context, so the availability of different technologies, the ability to quickly disseminate those out to rural communities, that varies country by country, and even regions within a country. So the integrated pest management plan will need to be developed to match the local context; we and all partners are here to support that process, and we’ll be talking both with government officials who were on the study tour, as well as our partners and our missions at a country level about what that might look like.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to Stephanie Parker, a freelance journalist based in Switzerland. Operator, can you open the line, please?

OPERATOR: The line is open, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hello, I’m Stephanie Parker. [UNCLEAR] is there any kind of financial aid or credit that’s being offered to the farmers [UNCLEAR] at this time?

MODERATOR: I’m sorry, we’re going to have to go to another caller quickly. If you can perhaps not use a speakerphone or speak directly into the phone, we’ll come right back to you. In the meantime we’ll go to Felix Njini out of Nairobi for Bloomberg. Please open the line.

OPERATOR: The line is open, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mine is just a follow-up question to my earlier question. You said there was a study which was done for maize, for corn, on 12 African countries. Would you mind naming the 12 countries? And just another question again. Is there any idea of how the pest is going to be spread now? Is it going to be as rapid as it was noticed a year ago?

MS. EDDY: The first question, I think we’ll follow up, Felix, by getting you a link to the actual study, which was commissioned by the UK’s development agency.

And then in terms of the rapid spread, yes, we anticipate it will continue to spread rapidly. The conditions in Africa match the needs of the pest to thrive, and we imagine the population prevalence will continue to increase as well, and we are waiting for data at the end of this crop cycle to get a better picture of what that will look like.

In terms of response I want to also underscore how the U.S. government really values partnerships, very broad partnerships, as a way to power a very rapid and robust response. So, for example, we’re engaging U.S. research institutions, universities, and also private sector partners in coming up with some of the best technologies that will match the pace of this pest and its spread, and we look forward with those partners to collaborating and co-designing some of the most innovative solutions. By the way, that includes partners in Africa.

So, again, to our Fall Armyworm technology prize - and we’re hoping we get broad applications from across African communities - we’re hoping to come up with some of the best ideas, the best uses of digital tools, to manage the two barriers that I mentioned, the dissemination of information and the dissemination of technologies that help farmers manage it. So the contest closes mid-May and we encourage everybody to share the announcement about the prize broadly so we can surface some of the smartest and leanest digital tools that will help impact Africa’s response.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. We will now go to the listening party in Accra, Ghana. Can you open the line, please?

OPERATOR: The line is open, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. In relation to the fact that the diseases or the pests are so prevalent, I would like to know when are you anticipating the end of this disease? And secondly, how would you insert interventions for countries, specifically like Ghana in terms of the government intervention to solve this issue? And my third question, inasmuch as you mentioned that pest has affected about a quarter to a half of the farm size, could you give us a sense of how much that represents?

MS. EDDY: There’s 30 million hectares cultivated in maize across Africa, so it’s a very large geographic area, and as I mentioned the pest can also attack other crops, and we’re specifically getting reports of sorghum, millet, and cotton as examples. So that’s a concern because those are also staples that farmers rely upon, and they’re streams of income for smallholder farmers, which is very important.

The pest is here to stay in Africa. It will be in farm fields, likely forever, and the challenge is to help farmers manage it as they manage other challenges in Africa.

Through Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s food security initiative, we’ve helped nine million people get lifted from poverty, and almost two million households to live free from hunger. The existence of this pest threatens those achievements, so it’s a concern shared by the global community and by Africans, and we’re working together in a smart and lean way to try to flow information and technologies so we can manage the outbreak and prevent any backsliding from those achievements.

MODERATOR: We have gone over; we will take one last attempt with Stephanie Parker in Switzerland. Operator, could you open the line, please?

OPERATOR: Stephanie, please press * then 1. Your line is open; please go ahead.

QUESTION: So while the next steps are sort of in process - I’m sure that will take a few years - is there any kind of financial aid or credit that is offered to farmers right now who are struggling, who have half of their crop or 25% of their crop gone?

MS. EDDY: I can’t speak on behalf of the supports country governments are providing to their farm communities. We’re certainly working through all our Feed the Future programs and other partners are working through their programs to protect livelihoods and to manage the pest as quickly and efficiently as we can. It’s important to protect the food security of those regions and those communities, so it’s on everyone’s radar and is, I think, one of the most important concerns for African governments right now.

MODERATOR: Thank you. I see there are still many questions in the queue, and we have gone ten minutes over and we have to conclude the call. I would encourage all of you who are still in the queue to submit your questions to afmediahub@state.gov, and we will submit them immediately to Ms. Eddy for a response. Ms. Eddy, do you have any final words?

MS. EDDY: Yes, I want first of all to emphasize we believe the pest is in Africa to stay. In our Brazil study tour, a farmer in Brazil said, “It’s like a marriage without a divorce.” It’s going to be a constant. So that’s the first important fact.

The ability of the pest to consume crops means that it will threaten food security, it will threaten livelihoods and our ability to reduce poverty, and it also threatens an important food source that will nourish the future generation. So these are our concerns; as a response we’re working to disseminate the best technologies and tools that we can to African counterparts and validate them as they are applicable to local farmers, and transfer knowledge. And we have a broad cohort of partners that have come forward; private sector, research, university, international NGO, who are very willing to help, and so we’re aligning that resource to implement a common vision in partnership with African governments to quickly manage the pest.

Thank you so much for your interest, and we’re happy to answer through email any follow-up questions we did not get to during this teleconference.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. That concludes today’s call. I want to thank Regina Eddy, Coordinator, Fall Armyworm Task Force at the USAID Bureau of Food Security, for joining us, and thank all of our callers for participating. If you have any questions, as Ms. Eddy stated, about today’s call, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at afmediahub@state.gov. Thank you.

Last updated: June 18, 2018

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