Locust warning time boost

A new technology has been developed to improve the warning time for locusts to just two months.

Desert locust experts at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA), have developed the new tool to help monitor and reduce the devastation caused by these ravenous pests.

Using data from satellites such as ESA’s Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity mission (SMOS), the new tool will detect the conditions that can lead to swarming locusts, such as soil moisture and green vegetation.

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Swarming occurs when a period of drought is followed by good rains and rapid vegetation growth.

Experts say that combining the experiences in forecasting plagues and satellite capabilities, the two organisations will significantly improve timely and accurate forecasting.

“Longer warning periods give countries more time to act swiftly to control a potential outbreak and prevent massive food losses,” said Mr Keith Cressman, FAO’s Senior Locust Forecasting Officer.

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Satellite imagery will be able to check soil moisture, which indicates how much water is available for vegetation growth and favourable locust breeding conditions. This, in turn, can be used to predict the presence of locusts two to three months in advance.

Previously, satellite-based locust forecasts were derived from information on green vegetation, meaning the favourable conditions for locust swarms were already present and only allowed for a warning period of one month. The new tool was validated in Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Morocco.

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