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Gigantic new locust swarms hit East Africa

Gigantic new locust swarms hit East Africa

Even more difficult in places such as Kenya that have little experience with gigantic locust invasions is deciding where to spray. Depending on the winds, which largely determine locust flight patterns, a swarm might travel 80 miles in a day. (In 1988, desert locusts were found to have crossed from West Africa to the Caribbean in just 10 days.)

To chase down these highly mobile swarms, the FAO is relying increasingly on information provided by local people, including Lemasulani, who began voluntarily tracking locust swarms in January.

Drawing on an extensive network of contacts who call him when they spot pockets of the insects, Lemasulani hires motorbike taxis to speed him to swarms. When he finds them, he enters their coordinates in a mobile phone app called elocust3m that was released in late February by David Hughes and his colleagues at Penn State University’s PlantVillage program, an open access public resource for smallholder farmers. Hughes developed the app at the request of the FAO, whose field staff have operated a similar tracking program on specialised tablets since 2014. The data are then d with the government, which can decide how best to react.

Until recently, when PlantVillage began paying him a stipend to cover his transport and telephone costs, Lemasulani paid for his locust scouting out of his own pocket. (His travels have been exempted from COVID-19 restrictions, as are training sessions for new elocust3m volunteers—residents in areas where swarms are expected—who nonetheless must wear masks and stay six feet apart.)

As Lemasulani wraps a red shawl around his shoulders to protect himself from the rain that has begun to fall outside his home, he says over video chat, “I come from a poor family background and got sponsored by the Catholic church in Oldonyiro though my primary and high school years. I was sponsored by a person I have never met. There is no way I can pay my sponsor back, but I feel noble giving back to my community.”