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Farmers Get Digital Weapon against Fall Army-worm

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Thanks to Nuru, a new mobile app launched by the Food and Agriculture Organisation FAO, identifying a Fall Army-worm infestation is as simple as holding a mobile phone next to a sick plant. The App will detect and immediately confirm if Fall Army-worm has caused the damage.
An army worm pictured on a maize plant

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Farmers in sub-Saharan Africa have a new digital weapon in their agricultural armoury to take on the Fall Armyworm – a crop pest that's threatening the food security of 300 million people.

The worms that present in form of caterpillars, march across the landscape in large groups feasting on young plants. Originally from South America, the pests have been reported in Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan, among others, where they have devastated millions of hectares of maize.

The bug prefers maize but can feed on more than 80 species of plants, including rice, sorghum, millet, sugarcane, vegetable crops and cotton. Although many African farmers might have heard about Fall Armyworm, they are often unable to recognize it or unsure of what they are facing.

Now thanks to Nuru, a new mobile app launched by the Food and Agriculture Organisation –FAO, identifying a Fall Army-worm infestation is as simple as holding a mobile phone next to a sick plant. The App will detect and immediately confirm if Fall Army-worm has caused the damage.

The app uses cutting-edge technologies involving machine learning and artificial intelligence. The software works on a standard Android phone, walking farmers through the process of checking their crops for Fall Armyworm, reporting back on infestation levels, and giving them advice on how to fight the pest.

Soon, in addition to English, Nuru will be able to speak to farmers in their own language. Nuru now speaks Swahili, French and Twi and will be learning new languages all the time. Allan Hruska, FAO's Principal Technical Coordinator on the Fall Armyworm response says that the new tool will help farmers recognize their new enemy and take immediate measures to stop it.

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Another important feature of the app is that it can work offline, “so farmers can use it whenever they want it”, said David Hughes, professor of Entomology and Biology at Pennsylvania State University, which led the development of the app with FAO. “Nuru is like an extension officer who is always there for the farmers, in their fields," he added.

Nuru complements FAO's recently launched Fall Armyworm Monitoring and Early Warning System (FAMEWS) mobile app, which builds knowledge on how and where the pest spreads, and what makes it less damaging," Keith Cressman, FAO Senior Agricultural Officer said, in a statement.