ROME, ITALY — The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is advancing its plan to control the spread and damage of a crop-eating pest in Africa, Asia and the Near East.

Fall Armyworm is an invasive species that damages crops. The FAO is working to limit the spread of the pest as it is causing maize crop loss.

“We will need to step up the alliance among key partners from all relevant sectors at the global level,” said Qu Dongyu, FAO director-general, during the first meeting of the steering committee of the Global Action for Fall Armyworm Control.

Fall Armyworm, or Spodoptera frugiperda, is a moth native to the Americas that has spread in recent years and has now reached Australia. In its caterpillar state, the pest feeds on more than 80 crops, with a particular attraction to maize.

According to the FAO, as much as 18 million tonnes of maize are lost annually in Africa, enough to feed tens of millions of people and representing an economic loss of up to $4.6 billion. Over the past three years, the FAO has spearheaded 63 Fall Armyworm-related projects, mostly in Africa, establishing many good practices and accumulating much valuable knowledge along the way.

The Global Action is designed to support and scale up those efforts through a strong and innovative coordination mechanism. If Fall Armyworm continues to expand, the role of maize in the world's food system could be seriously affected, Qu Dongyu said.

“We need quick action,” Qu Dongyu said. “Innovation has a big role to play.”

He pointed to an updated smartphone app developed by FAO known as FAMEWS (Fall Armyworm Monitoring and Early Warning System) as a tool, available in 29 languages, that channels real-time and field-level information about the pest’s location and spread to a global data platform every two hours, while also giving smallholder farmers specific tips on how to cope with and contrast infestations.

The steering committee brought together leaders from governments, multilateral institutions, research institutes, civil society and the private sector, from five continents.

Its members’ consultations are expected to help optimize the Global Action Plan ahead of a high-level conference planned to be held at the African Development Bank's headquarters in Abidjan in April.

The Global Action aims to reduce maize crop losses to 3% from current levels often 12 times higher.

“It is an ambitious target, because it has to be,” said Bukar Tijani, FAO assistant director-general, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department.