Space

Detecting the spread of locusts using satellite services 

2020 has been a tragic year, with one of the tragic events being the invasion of locusts in Eastern Africa. EUMETSAT has been on the forefront under the guidance of IGAD Climate Prediction & Applications Centre (ICPAC) in observing the impact of the locusts in the invaded East African countries using satellites. 

Locusts are known in the biblical aspect as a curse from God on the enemies of his children. The locusts invade the farmlands clearing all the food supplies with a swarm to wipe food enough to feed a community of over 20000 people. Locusts are a particular type of grasshopper which moves around in swarms wiping every green stalk standing in their way.

This year locusts approached East Africa, clearing over 70000 hectares of planted crops in and 2400 kilometers of Pasteur in East Africa. These swarms spread to Uganda but are now controllable. Nevertheless, the new breed of locusts is coming from Yemen, raising questions over their primary cause.

ICPAC has been monitoring climatic changes evaluating how to mitigate disasters in East Africa. These processes take place through careful analysis of satellite services.

The satellites gather vital data in regions where natural disasters are likely to occur before the information disseminates to tackle the challenges. The satellites also help in the preparation of areas to handle the upcoming challenges and tragedies. The satellite services provided data on locusts and how to control them, and they are now working towards the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Kenneth Kemucie Mwangi of ICPAC advised that the countries infested with locusts can analyze the locusts’ next breeding ground and clear the eggs with pesticides to prevent their multiplication. This move can help the states stop the locusts’ survival and their mutations to overcome the effects of the pesticides.

The satellites can help predict the next path that the locusts will take. This data can help the governments of different countries prepare early enough to mitigate the risks. Additionally, the satellites can ascertain what the locusts are doing, be it feeding, breeding, or gathering together to move away like a swarm. This move implies that ground troops must ascertain if what the satellites are telling is true.

The scientists who are on the ground can tell the next behaviour of the swarm by observing their colour, how far they move on land, and their feeding rate. This data can help them advise the government on the next plan of action to save the farmlands and pasture from an impending invasion. Data from the Copernicus satellite can show the areas where vegetation is greener and a possible next invasion point by the locusts. Detecting the moisturized areas in dry countries would likely indicate that this region is the next breeding ground for the locusts. Additionally, observing the speed and direction of the wind will help predict the next migration zone of the locusts and when to prepare to spray them with pesticides once they settle. 

Kenneth reported that the coronavirus slowed the control of the locusts in Kenya since the shelter-in-place measures restricted the transfer of workers to the affected areas. Additionally, the ban on travels limited the inception of pesticides from abroad as exports making control of the locusts a big problem.

Finally, Kenneth hopes that the satellite services can be more effective and deliver data on time for the troops on the ground to respond appropriately. Additionally, he thanked the satellite operators for providing such crucial data to resolve the locusts’ problem.

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