In the spotlight:
Fall armyworm

A good case to illustrate the pain points and the challenges to which agriculture must find effective solutions is the Fall Armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda), or FAW, which originated in South America, and is now spreading across Africa and Asia:

FAW is an insect (a moth) native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, which feeds on more than 80 plant species, including maize, rice, sorghum, millet, sugarcane, vegetable crops, and cotton. FAW can cause significant yield losses if not well managed. FAW was first detected in Central and Western Africa in early 2016, and now it is in almost all of Sub-Saharan Africa, except in Djibouti and Lesotho. At the end of July 2018, FAW was detected in Yemen and in India as the first occurrence in Asia. FAW is a dangerous transboundary pest with a high potential to spread continually due to its natural distribution capacity and trade. Farmers will need significant support to manage FAW sustainably in their cropping systems through Integrated Pest Management.

FAO, Dec 2018

In the past, such pests would be controlled using chemical pesticides. But due to overuse, FAW is resistant to most insecticides, and the more it is sprayed, the more resistant it will become. The same is true for the use of GMO seeds, because FAW has developed resistance to the toxin produced by the GMO crop (Bt Trait).

FAO estimates that sub-Saharan Africa has about 35m hectares of maize grown by smallholders, and that almost all of it is now infested or at risk of infestation. If the pest is not controlled, it could gobble up as much as 20% of the region’s total maize crop. Some countries may be particularly hard hit. The Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI), an association of agricultural research centers in 12 countries, thinks that big producers such as Nigeria or Tanzania could lose more than half their maize harvest.

The Economist, Jan 18th 2018

Thus, there is a real and urgent need for new effective, economic, sustainable and safe solutions among growers, consumers, agro-chemical companies. All actors recognize the urgent need for new innovation in the agricultural space; the real question is which technologies and solutions will be best be able to satisfy their needs? The positive environmental impact of new sustainable solutions that can be deployed on a global scale will be very large. The need is not just theoretical – it is very real for those growers whose livelihood is at risk, the companies whose products are losing effectiveness, the billions of people who need increased food security, and the species and habitats which might suffer if new solutions with real effect potential are not available.