Africa turns to technology in race to out-smart locust invasion as Selina Wamucii, FAO introduce smart tools

(200222) -- NAIROBI, Feb. 22, 2020 (Xinhua) -- A swarm of desert locusts invade parts of Mwingi Town in Kitui County, Kenya, Feb. 20, 2020. (Xinhua/Zhang Yu)

EAST AFRICA – As the whole world battles with the novel coronavirus, the Eastern African region seem to have been served with a second helping of a crisis of biblical proportions with the growing swarms of ravenous locusts.

The crisis is extraordinary in scale and has escalated so quickly that researchers and scientists have formulated tools to stay one step ahead of the itinerant locusts.

To this end, Selina Wamucii a Kenyan agricultural company and social enterprise has launched a free tool that will help farmers and pastoralists across Africa to predict and control locust behaviour.

Dubbed Kuzi, it is an AI-powered tool that generates real-time heatmap of locusts across Africa, shows all potential migration routes, and gives a real-time locust breeding index.

Using satellite data, soil sensor data, ground meteorological observation, and machine learning, Kuzi can predict the breeding, occurrence and migration routes of desert locusts across the horn of African and Eastern African countries, reports Africa Business Communities.

It uses deep learning to identify the formation of locust swarms and the technology then sends farmers and pastoralists free SMS alerts 2-3 months in advance of when locusts are highly likely to attack farms and livestock in their areas.

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Without preventative measures, a swarm of 80 million locusts can consume food equivalent to that eaten by 35,000 people a day, devastating food stocks for vulnerable communities.

Putting in place early detection and control measures, which are critical in desert locust management, will offer farmers and pastoralists a vital tool in the fight against world hunger and food insecurity.

“A new wave of locust upsurge now threatens millions across Eastern and Southern Africa, exacerbating food insecurity for already vulnerable communities, amidst the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have a responsibility to develop and deploy locally bred solutions that address these challenges faced by our vulnerable rural communities,” said John Oroko, CEO of Kuzi’s creator, Selina Wamucii.

The free tool is currently available to users in Somali, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda in the regional languages of Kiswahili, Somali and Amharic.

The organization plans to roll it out to cover the rest of Africa in the near future.

Farmers can sign up for the free SMS alerts with any mobile device, with or without an internet connection, capture the GPS location of their farm, and they are good to go, without any charges.

FAO to use AI, drones and satellites to curb locust invasion

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has also formulated mechanisms of combating the invasion such as the eLocust3, the standard surveillance technology used by countries with frequent infestations.

Penn State University, a long-time FAO partner on pest research has rapidly developed a mobile phone version of the technology, eLocust3m, which is now widely available through App stores, reports Kilimo News.

FAO will also be shipping hundreds of eLocust3g, a new palm-sized GPS device with satellite connection and basic eLocust3 functions, to countries in Africa and Asia.

Both versions let field officers record where they encounter locusts, what stage of development they are in and what areas were treated.

To also ensure the hard-to-reach areas are also being monitored, FAO will be introducing drones as eyes in the sky with Kenya to be the first country to test the technology.

Flying even higher in the sky, satellites have long provided FAO with data to help predict locust movements.

The organization is partnering with the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — which jointly operates weather satellites with NASA.

NOAA is using FAO’s latest data from East Africa to expand a model that projects locust flight paths. This allows forecasters to better understand sources of the swarms and where they be headed in the next several days.

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