Are drones solution to locusts currently ravaging the country?


A swarm of locusts in Embu County on January 28, 2019. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI

As locusts continue to lay waste to hundreds of acres of crops, the focus is now shifting to how technology can be used to curb the menace.

On Monday scientists called for advanced technology as the current use of aircraft to spray the pests is proofing to be futile amid growing concerns over their rapid spread.

The experts say deployment of superior technologies such as drones could hold the key to successful combat of the locusts that are now threatening food security in the country.

However, with regulations guiding drones in the country yet to be approved, use of the technology may not be possible as at now.

“The government needs to get help from countries with advanced drone technology like the United States, Israel and Denmark to deal with the locust menace before it gets out of hand,” Muo Kasina, the chairman of Entomological Society of Kenya told Digital this week. In Africa, countries such as Rwanda and Ghana have made admiral advances in the use of the technology, especially in the fields of agriculture and medicine.

Drones help in achieving precision spraying where a certain area that has been mapped out can be effectively manned using this technology.

Just this week, Rwanda's government deployed drones in spraying insecticides in mosquito-breeding sites.

An official said they wanted to kill mosquitoes from their sources and that drones will spray a sort of larvicide, which kills that type of mosquitoes.

"The unmanned aerial vehicles are going to support the existing efforts that include mosquito nets and housing sprays to fight anopheles which spread malaria," a Rwandan State official told the BBC.

Kush Gadhia, an executive at Kenya’s Astral Aviation’s Drone Solution, which is waiting for approval to roll out commercial drones, says the current method being used to deal with locusts does not offer the solution in taming the menace.

“The question is, does the solution match the problem? A locust swarm travels up to 130km in a single day. The speed at which they migrate makes it a challenge to react to their arrival in due time, which necessitates a proactive approach,” said Mr Gadhia.

“Locusts travel with the wind, thus it is possible to anticipate their arrival and take preventive measures to spray potential migration sites, which can only be done effectively using drones.”

Geoffrey Nyaga, a drone expert at Astral Aviation’s Drone Solution, says the advances in drone technology has made it possible to have a variety of spraying UAVs that have impressive capabilities to combat the desert locusts.

Mr Gadhia, for instance, says the Flyox drone, has the capability to spray 1,500 litres of pesticide in one flight in a high precision manner.

“One of the distinguishing capabilities that drones offer above every other solution, is the ability to fly in swarms. Multiple drones are flown autonomously at once so as to cover more ground, thus combating the locust on multiple fronts,” he said.

Agriculture Secretary Peter Munya said this week that it has become difficult to eliminate the locusts given that they leave eggs before flying to other regions.

The war on locust, said Mr Munya, would take at least six months before it is fully eradicated. The CS warned of food security threat as Kenya’s breadbasket regions prepare for planting of the main crop starting March.

Farmers in the eight affected counties have adopted traditional methods to deal with the locusts, including beating drums with hopes that they will scare them away.

On Monday, the District Locust Control Organisation of Eastern Africa Director-General Stephen Njoka said the aircraft conducting aerial spraying had been increased to six and that further spread of the pests was unlikely to occur.

The regulator will be making the second attempt to have drone regulations approved after parliament thwarted the previous ones as they did not comply with the constitution, a move that slowed down the adoption of the UAVs.