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Posts Tagged ‘locust’

Photo: Reuters.
A man attempts to fend off a swarm of desert locusts at a ranch near the town of Nanyuki, in Laikipia county, Kenya.

Talk about citizen scientists! Tribal elders in Africa could teach Westerners a few things about enlisting everyone to solve problems.

Rachel Nuwer reports at the New York Times, “Melodine Jeptoo will never forget the first time she saw a locust swarm. Moving like a dark cloud, the insects blotted out the sky and pelted her like hail.

“ ‘When they’re flying, they really hit you hard,’ said Ms. Jeptoo, who lives in Kenya and works with PlantVillage, a nonprofit group that uses technology to help farmers adapt to climate change.

“In 2020, billions of the insects descended on East African countries that had not seen locusts in decades, fueled by unusual weather connected to climate change. Kenya had last dealt with a plague of this scale more than 70 years ago; Ethiopia and Somalia, more than 30 years ago. Nineteen million farmers and herders across these three countries, which bore the brunt of the damage, saw their livelihoods severely affected. …

“But as bad as 2020’s swarms were, they and their offspring could have caused much worse damage. While the weather has helped slow the insects’ reproduction, the success, [said Keith Cressman, a senior locust forecasting officer at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization], has primarily resulted from a technology-driven anti-locust operation that hastily formed in the chaotic months following the insects’ arrival to East Africa. This groundbreaking approach proved so effective at clamping down on the winged invaders in some places that some experts say it could transform management of other natural disasters around the world.

‘We’d better not let this crisis go to waste,’ said David Hughes, an entomologist at Penn State University. ‘We should use this lesson as a way not just to be adapted to the next locust crisis, but to climate change, generally.’ …

“The locust plague that hit East Africa in 2020 was two years in the making. In 2018, two major cyclones dumped rain in a remote area of Saudi Arabia, leading to an 8,000-fold increase in desert locust numbers. By mid-2019, winds had pushed the insects into the Horn of Africa, where a wet autumn further boosted their population. An unusual cyclone in Somalia in early December finally tipped the situation into a true emergency. …

“Countries like Sudan and Eritrea that regularly deal with small, seasonal swarms have teams of locust trackers who are trained to find the insects and recognize which life cycle stage they are in. They use a tablet-based program to transmit locust data by satellite to national and international authorities so experts can design appropriate control strategies.

“But people outside of those frontline locust nations who may want to start using this system today would encounter a typical technology problem. … Even if the hardware were available, in 2020, East Africa lacked experts who could identify locusts.

“ ‘We’d never had a dress rehearsal for the real thing,’ said Alphonse Owuor, a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization specialist in Somalia. ‘We had people who were very familiar with locusts in theory, but who didn’t have the experience or equipment required to carry out this massive operation.’

“With swarms suddenly covering an area of Kenya larger than New Jersey, officials were tasked with creating a locust-combating operation virtually from scratch. Collecting dependable, detailed data about locusts was the first crucial step.

” ‘Saying “Oh, there’s locusts in northern Kenya” doesn’t help at all,’ Mr. Cressman said. ‘We need longitude and latitude coordinates in real time.’

“Rather than try to rewrite the locust-tracking software for newer tablets, Mr. Cressman thought it would be more efficient to create a simple smartphone app that would allow anyone to collect data like an expert. He reached out to Dr. Hughes, who had already created a similar mobile tool with the Food and Agriculture Organization to track a devastating crop pest, the fall armyworm, through PlantVillage, which he founded.

“PlantVillage’s app uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to help farmers in 60 countries, primarily in Africa, diagnose problems in their fields. Borrowing from this blueprint, Dr. Hughes and his colleagues completed the new app, eLocust3m, in just a month

“Unlike the previous tablet-based program, anyone with a smartphone can use eLocust3m. The app presents photos of locusts at different stages of their life cycles, which helps users diagnose what they see in the field. GPS coordinates are automatically recorded and algorithms double check photos submitted with each entry. Garmin International also helped with another program that worked on satellite-transmitting devices.

“ ‘The app is really easy to use,’ said Ms. Jeptoo of PlantVillage. Last year, she recruited and trained locust trackers in four hard-hit Kenyan regions. ‘We had scouts who were 40- to 50-year-old elders, and even they were able to use it.’ ”

More at the New York Times, here.

I love how many apps there are for identifying things these days. PictureThis has been a great help to me in identifying unfamiliar flowers. Now if I could just get one for birds!

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