Science wins a round in the fight against fall armyworm

CIMMYT announces three fall armyworm-tolerant elite maize hybrids for eastern and southern Africa, following intensive research and trials in Kenya

Fall armyworm is a fearsome adversary, especially for maize farmers. The second half of its scientific name, Spodoptera frugiperda, literally means “lost fruit.” Native to the Americas, the pest was first encountered in Africa in 2016. It quickly spread to over 40 African countries, causing an estimated $3 billion worth of crop losses. By 2018 it spread to Asia.

Faced with this crisis, researchers at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) — bolstered by strong global collaboration and partnerships — worked at breakneck speed to respond.

The pest cannot be eradicated. So CIMMYT and its partners raced to create awareness about the pest, the need for monitoring and early detection during the crop season and agronomic best practices for managing the pest in Africa and Asia.

“Fall armyworm poses a complex challenge and cannot be sustainably tackled by a single solution,” explained B.M. Prasanna, director of CIMMYT’s Global Maize program and the CGIAR Research Program on Maize. “We need to adopt an integrated pest management strategy based on scientifically validated technologies and management practices — including host plant resistance, biological control, environmentally safer pesticides, and agroecological management — considering the socioeconomic contexts of farming communities.”

The new hybrids (top) responded well to artificial fall armyworm infestation, compared to commercial varieties included as checks in the study (bottom).
The new hybrids (top) responded well to artificial fall armyworm infestation, compared to commercial varieties included as checks in the study (bottom).

The host has entered the chat

Researchers at CIMMYT leveraged the insect resistance of tropical maize germplasm developed in Mexico in the 1990s and the stress resilience of elite maize germplasm developed in sub-Saharan Africa. They worked intensively over the past three years to identify and validate sources of native genetic resistance to fall armyworm in Africa. This involved screening over 3,000 inbred lines and 3,500 hybrids during 2018 and 2019, in partnership with Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), at a screenhouse complex in Kiboko, Kenya.

In 2020, eight promising CIMMYT-developed maize hybrids — and four popular commercial hybrids which were included as checks — were subjected to a battery of trials: fall armyworm artificial infestation in screenhouses at Kiboko, on-farm trials in Kenya, and evaluations for other farmer-preferred traits in eastern Africa.

Based on these trials, three CIMMYT-derived hybrids emerged as the strongest candidates. When artificially infested with fall armyworm, these hybrids yielded 7 to 8.5 times more maize than the commercial checks.

CIMMYT is now partnering with research programs in over 10 countries across eastern and southern Africa to further evaluate these hybrids in national performance trials before their release. Once these hybrids are released as varieties in the target countries, they will be sublicensed to seed companies for scale-up to better reach farming communities. This process is expected to begin in 2022.

“Host plant resistance is an important pillar of integrated pest management. And the identification of the first set of fall armyworm-tolerant maize hybrids for Africa is a major development,” Prasanna said. “We intend to extend this success to Asia, where the pest is also causing havoc in many countries. A strong pipeline of elite maize varieties with farmer-preferred traits, including genetic resistance to fall armyworm, is the need of the hour in both Africa and Asia.”

Partners and funders

The Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA) project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

© 2021 International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center
We would like to thank all funders who supported this research through their contributions to the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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Marcia MacNeil, Rodrigo Ordóñez
Project coordination
Leslie Domínguez, Emma Orchardson
Art directors
Alfonso Cortés, Nancy Valtierra
Layout and design
Nancy Valtierra
Web design
Ricardo López
Graphics and illustrations
Marcelo Ortiz, Eliot Sánchez, Nancy Valtierra
Writers and editors
Nima Chodon, Madeline Dahm, Leslie Domínguez, Alison Doody, Wasim Iftikar, G. Michael Listman, Marcia MacNeil, Steven McCutcheon, Marta Millere, Emma Orchardson
T.S. Amjath Babu, Frederic Baudron, Hans Braun, Shiela Chikulo, Olaf Erenstein, Velu Govindan, M.L. Jat, Timothy Krupnik, Sylvanus Odjo, B.M. Prasanna, Harminder S. Sidhu, Jelle Van Loon
Francisco Alarcón, Alfonso Cortés, Wasim Iftikar, Peter Lowe, Ranak Martin, S. Mojumder/Drik, Matthew O'Leary, Love Kumar Singh/BISA, F. Sipalla, Dhruba Thapa/NARC, Szefei Wong/Dreamstime, CIMMYT Archives
Silvia Rico
Correct citation
CIMMYT. 2021. Resilience. Renewal. Transition. CIMMYT Annual Report 2020. CDMX, Mexico: CIMMYT.
AGROVOC descriptors:
Maize; Wheat; Plant breeding; Genetic resources; Innovation adoption; Plant biotechnology; Seed production; Food security; Sustainability; Research policies; Economic analysis; Cropping systems; Agricultural research; Organization of research; Developing countries. Additional Keywords: CIMMYT. AGRIS category codes: A50 Agricultural Research; A01 Agriculture– General Aspects. Dewey decimal classification: 630

© International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), 2021. All rights reserved. The designations employed in the presentation of materials in this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of CIMMYT or its contributory organizations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city, or area, or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. CIMMYT encourages fair use of this material. Proper citation is requested.


Asian Development Bank
Accelerating Genetic Gains in Maize and Wheat
Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research
Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics
Bioactive food components
Borlaug Institute in South Asia
CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security
International Center for Tropical Agriculture
International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center
CIMMYT Maize Genetic Resource Lines
Carbon dioxide equivalent
Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia
Crops to End Hunger
Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research
CGIAR Excellence in Breeding Platform
Executive Management Team
European Union
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
Farm Power and Conservation Agriculture for Sustainable Intensification
Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office of the United Kingdom
Fusarium head blight
Innovative Applications in Analytics Award
Indian Council of Agricultural Research
International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas
International Food Policy Research Institute
International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis
International Institute of Tropical Agriculture
Institut de Recherche pour le Développement
International Rice Research Institute
Integrated Tribal Development Agency
Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences
Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization
Key performance indicators
CGIAR Research Program on Maize
Nitrous oxide
Nepal Agricultural Research Council
National Agricultural Research Systems
Odisha Rural Development and Marketing Society
Punjab Agricultural University
Program for Growth and Resilience
Mexico's Secretariat of Agriculture and Rural Development (Secretaría de Agricultura y Desarrollo Rural)
Sustainable Development Goals
Seeds of Discovery
Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa
Zimbabwe Resilience Building Fund
United Nations
United Nations Development Programme
United States Agency for International Development
United Nations World Food Programme
CGIAR Research Program on Wheat
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Sustainable Development Goals

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations (UN) Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity, for people and the planet. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.

The SDGs set the pathway for agricultural, social, and economic development. They address the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice.

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CIMMYT – the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center – is the global leader in publicly-funded maize and wheat research and related farming systems. Headquartered near Mexico City, CIMMYT works with hundreds of partners throughout the developing world to sustainably increase the productivity of maize and wheat cropping systems, thus improving global food security and reducing poverty. CIMMYT is a member of the CGIAR System and leads the CGIAR Research Programs on Maize and Wheat and the Excellence in Breeding Platform. The Center receives support from national governments, foundations, development banks and other public and private agencies.

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