Fight against locust invasion gets smarter, tactical with use of night spraying drones

XAG Agricultural Drone conducted unmanned spraying operation in Zambia

EAST AFRICA – The smart agtech company XAG, has proposed the use of drones in undertaking more targeted spraying application in the fight against locust invasion especially during the night, to support the on-going ground and aerial control measures.

Last week the Food and Agriculture Organization made an appeal for additional US$38 million support to continue work of combating the locust menace in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and Yemen.

Without the support which will be channelled towards financing fuel, airtime, and pilot hours, the 28 anti-locust aircraft which are now patrolling the skies to spot and spray locust swarms could cease operations in March.

FAO has been fielding a locust fighting force in the air and on the ground that involves 28 airplanes and helicopters, 260 ground units, and some 3,000 newly trained spotters and control operators.

This is in addition to new innovations such as the eLocust3 digital tools, satellite imagery, artificial intelligence, and trajectory models that have been harnessed to report locusts in real-time and deliver maps of infestations, breeding areas, and migration routes.

However, the Chinese manufacturer of agricultural drones, XAG has a novel concept that entails the use of the un-manned vehicles not just for surveillance but also to undertake the spraying of chemical or biological pesticides to kill the locusts especially at night and in inaccessible areas for ground vehicles and aeroplanes.

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“During daytime, the locust swarms spread out over an extremely large area and stay mobile in the air for long periods. Their dynamic movement makes them much more difficult to be contained. But at night, what we would aim for are static objects which can be accurately sprayed.”

Fraser Zhang, owner of Sunagri Zambia   

According to XAG, when the locust swarms are unscrupulously flying and densely-packed during day, it is unsafe and ineffective for drones to carry out spraying operations.

However, XAG’s agricultural drones with night-operation mode are able to target the wingless nymphs and hopper bands at the early stage, or launch an attack when the flying adults settle down after sunset.

“During daytime, the locust swarms spread out over an extremely large area and stay mobile in the air for long periods. Their dynamic movement makes them much more difficult to be contained. But at night, what we would aim for are static objects which can be accurately sprayed,” said Fraser Zhang, the owner of Sunagri Zambia partner of XAG.              

The use of unmanned devices is also expected to help lessen the strain on supplies and human resources that are needed to suppress the locust outbreaks.

Fitted with four rotary atomisers, XAG’s agricultural drones can operate fully autonomous on a predetermined path and deliver uniform sprays three metres above the targeted locust swarms.

This means that less sophisticated skills of the field operators are required, while reducing the quantities of pesticides used to minimum level. Such unmanned technology therefore shows strengths to fight a locust invasion amid travelling restrictions and social distancing imposed due to COVID-19.

XAG operates in Africa through its partner Sunagri Investment Zambia Limited offering its services in Zambia, Uganda and Tanzania, helping farmers sustainably treat pest diseases and reap the benefits of improved yields.

In 2019 Sunagri provided drone interventions that yielded success to manage the crop-devouring fall armyworm.

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