• Sofia Eugeniou

Kenyans use app to fight desert locust swarms

The village of Lorugum, located in northwest Kenya, is under siege. Hundreds of thousands of young desert locusts rest on trees, shrubs and among the grassland.

In a few days time, their bodies will undergo a transformation, turning from pink to yellow and their wings hardening. Without human intervention, they will begin to swarm, with consequences for agricultural production, livelihoods and the environment.

Normally solitary creatures, when desert locusts crowd together they become a gregarious force that plagues whole areas. Such swarms of locusts can be enormous. They can contain up to 10 billion individuals and stretch over hundreds of kilometres. They can cover up to 200km (120 miles) in a day, devastating rural livelihoods in their drive to eat and reproduce.

In an attempt to stop the locusts in their tracks, a team of locust scouts trained by local aid group ACTED, with the help of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Turkana County regional government, use cameras on their smartphones to spot and report sightings using a new application, E-Locust.

Scouts such as Christopher Achilo take photos and videos of greenery that is crawling with the pink insects and uploads the images onto the app.

Image credit: Deutsche Welle (DW website)

Describing the concerning behaviour of the desert locusts, Christopher said: "One locust eats food equal to [his] weight every day, so imagine having millions of locusts, if you cannot even see over the trees".

The app is able to collect and send real-time data on locust figures and sightings to a database in Lodwar, Turkana's main town, which is then used by another team deployed to spray the insects with pesticides to prevent swarm formation.

With climate change giving unusually wet weather and a record number cyclones in the region (which act to disperse locusts) locust activity is increasingly encouraged by these changes in weather. Locust numbers have been the worst in three generations, surging in East Africa and the Red Sea area in late 2019 and early this year.

The pests could cost East Africa and Yemen (which is still suffering one of the worst humanitarian crises the world has encountered) $8.5 billion this year, according to the World Bank.

In a bulletin posted on July 3, the FAO said it expected swarm formation in Kenya to continue until mid-July. It said that in June, control operations treated over 30,000 hectares against locusts.

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