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Fighting Desert Locust Together: Innovations and Solutions to Combat an Agrarian & Food Crisis
On February 3, 2021, Feed the Future Developing Local Extension Capacity (DLEC) and ClimaCell.org hosted a webinar focusing on innovations and last-mile solutions to dealing with the desert locust crisis. We hosted this webinar because if it was not for COVID-19, the desert locust crisis would be the most significant challenge facing Africa this decade. The desert locust forms into swarms which are highly destructive: they can travel up to 150 km per day, damaging crops and fodder along the way and exacerbating food insecurity in parts of Africa. In 2020, swarms reached sizes as large as 1.5 times the size of New York City!
In the last few years, innovative technologies and last-mile solutions have emerged that could help prevent future desert locust attacks and support better monitoring of locust swarms and warning systems to support farmers. Georgina Campbell Flatter, Executive Director of ClimaCell.org, provided opening remarks highlighting the importance of aid to support farmers and pastoralists following locust attacks in early 2020, as well as the impressive progress and momentum in early warning and early action innovations like hyperlocal weather data, use of digital tools, and others.
Next, Marc Gilkey, Senior Agriculture Development Advisor at USAID Bureau of Resilience and Food Security, described the biology of the desert locust, how the swarms form, and swarm behavior as a cohesive entity. He emphasized the need for ongoing desert locust surveillance and control, as well as the use of technology, including locust reporting applications. Then, Boniface Akuku, Director of Information and Communication Technology of the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), provided the perspective of the Government of Kenya. He emphasized the need to move from reactive to proactive approaches, including the use of digital platforms to share diverse data to predict and mitigate future desert locust attacks.
Following Ms. Akuku’s remarks, a panel discussed technology innovations for locust response. Yaev Motro, PhD, a locust expert, and Tomer Regev, CEO and Co-Founder of Alta Innovation, discussed the use of precision drone technology to identify desert locust locations and spray only those areas affected by locusts, while also minimizing the use of pesticides. They also talked about a recent trip to Ethiopia to share these technologies and coach Ethiopian locust warriors on how to use drone technology, sprayers, and use protective equipment. Dan Slagan and Rei Goffer from ClimaCell Inc. discussed the use of hyper-local weather data, integration of data sources, and specialized models to add precision to identifying when it is best to spray locust swarms. ClimaCell’s platform provides timely recommendations on when it would be the right day to spray based on numerous factors and conditions, as well as alerts via SMS or WhatsApp.
A second panel honed in on the last miles solutions to reach farmers. Emmah Mwangi, Agriculture Climate Research Manager for the Kenya Red Cross, recommended localized and context-specific data to strengthen early warning early action systems, as well as collaboration between diverse stakeholders and ongoing pilots to inform system development. Henry Kinyua, Head of East Africa, for Digital Green, talked about the use of customized videos as a way to reach farmers with information. He discussed the use of videos in the local language to disseminate information to fight the mango fruit fly in Kenya and how these videos can be delivered via multiple channels, including the trusted KALRO application. Ritika Sood, Senior Partner Relations Manager for Arifu, talked about their digital advisory platform, providing farmers with relevant agricultural information at no cost to farmers. She emphasized the need to work in partnership to get the subject matter content and customization needed to appropriately reach farmers.
Mr. Gilkey provided closing remarks, noting the importance of moving from analog to digital technologies and working in pluralistic partnerships to mitigate the multiple needs that emerge from the desert locust crisis. The webinar recording is accessible here.