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Technology

New tech promises to curb locust menace

A new innovation is promising to play a major role in the war against the insects.
A new innovation is promising to play a major role in the war against the insects. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Kenya is one of the countries ravaged by locusts that are threatening the food situation in the region. The insects have attacked crops in more than 20 counties in Kenya, posing a serious challenge to an already food-deficient country.

Variety of methods have been adopted in a bid to curb the menace. While these measures have achieved some measure of success, experts have been calling for deployment of latest technology, such as drones and apps, saying this is the most effective way to win the war against the locust invasion.

Now, a new innovation is promising to play a major role in the war against the insects. The elocust3 platform supported by Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Kenya, looks to greatly enhance the fight on the destructive insects that have struck fear among farmers.

How does the app work? It helps in locating where the swarms are, enabling precision in aerial spraying.

Data on the location, type of locust ( whether it’s mature or immature) and the size of the swarm, is fed into the system. Then the app will automatically pick the coordinates and relay information to the control centre.

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“The information will help the aerial team to know the exact location given that they will have coordinates, hence enabling efficient spraying of the swarm by the aircraft. This way we minimise wastage,” said Hamisi Williams, deputy head of FAO in Kenya.

The platform informs the locust management team of the areas that have been affected. This helps the team to direct their energies to the affected areas.

FAO has recruited a number of scouts who monitor the situation in the fields then feed the information to the app.

“The use of this app enables us to create a map of locust invasion and it helps us to know the areas that have been highly affected and requires quick action,” he said.

The app, which is android-enabled, can be downloaded on a smartphone, is easy to master.”

Mr Williams noted that the app has already been instrumental in controlling locust in the country, pointing out that unlike previously when the records were kept in books which can go missing and making tracing of information difficult, all critical information can now be found online.

“The app has enabled us to keep proper record which can be traced when needed, unlike previously when they would be recorded in books, making it difficult to trace in the event it gets lost,” said Mr Williams.

FAO, he added, is at the moment building information system at Kilimo House, the headquarters for the Ministry of Agriculture, to enable the government to have the technology in place even after the fight on locusts is over.

Agriculture Principal Secretary Hamadi Boga said they expect to have wiped out the invasion by June thanks to technology-driven efforts.

“The works on the ground have been going on well as FAO and the Kenyan government have been on the fore front to eliminate these insects,” said Prof Boga.

The PS revealed that the government has so far spent Sh500 million in waging war against the insects.

Scientists have been calling for advanced technology to complement the use of aircraft to spray the pests amid growing concerns over their rapid spread.

The experts are of the view that deployment of superior technologies such as drones hold the key to successfully combating the locusts and hence staving off a food crisis.

“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,” said Muo Kasina, the chairman of Entomological Society in February.

Drones help in achieving precision spraying. 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.

In January scientists called for use of drones, saying the use of aircraft to spray the pests was becoming futile.

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

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