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Fall armyworm (FAW), Spodoptera frugiperda, is a moth native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas that has now spread globally. In its caterpillar stage, it can cause significant damage to plants unless there is natural control, good agronomic practices or resistant varieties in place. FAW prefers maize but can also feed on more than 80 other crops, including wheat, sorghum, millet, sugarcane, vegetable crops and cotton.

Once established in a country, FAW is not possible to eradicate or control to stop it from spreading – an adult can fly up to a hundred kilometers in a single night. Since its arrival in West Africa at the beginning of 2016, FAW has reached most African countries. It has also spread further to the Near East and to more than a dozen Asian countries, including China, India and Japan, and has been reported in Australia, Mauritania and Timor Leste. Southern parts of Europe could be next.

Based on 2018 estimates from 12 African countries, up to 17.7 million tonnes of maize could be lost annually due to FAW on that continent – enough to feed tens of millions of people. The most direct impact of these losses hits smallholder maize farmers, most of whom rely on the crop to stave off hunger and poverty.