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App sent to do battle with locusts in Namibia

By EDITH MUTETHYA in Nairobi, Kenya | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-09-03 08:46

A mobile app backed by the United Nations is tracking swarms of locusts in Namibia, where the pests are laying waste to crops and pastures.

The southern African country has been grappling with what is now a third wave of outbreaks of the African migratory locust. The invasion began in December, and farmers are also contending with swarms of red locusts and brown locusts.

The pests have damaged thousands of hectares of grazing lands and crop fields in southern parts of the country.

In late April, the Ministry of Agriculture reported that more than 700,000 hectares of grazing land and more than 1,200 crop fields had been destroyed by locusts in 10 of the country's 14 regions.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization on Wednesday said the swarms are threatening the food security of the country and the livelihoods of thousands of small farmers.

In response, the UN agency developed the mobile app, called eLocust3m, and expects it to help in combating the spread of the destructive pests.

"The eLocust3m application will help us to assess the current situation on the ground and to warn us of the likelihood of an invasion," said Margaret Matengu, chief agricultural extension officer of the Directorate of Agricultural Production, Extension and Engineering Services in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform.

Matengu said times of crisis can sometimes usher in innovative solutions.

The UN agency has trained about 30 officers from the ministry on how to use the app.

Wreaking havoc

The training comes under a project that is also being implemented in Angola, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, where the African migratory locust is also wreaking havoc.

The UN agency said the application is well suited for remote locations where monitoring would otherwise be difficult, as no internet connection is required.

The UN agency said the data collected from the app helps to inform decision-makers on which areas need attention. They can learn the extent of the outbreaks in order to guide coordination and response efforts.

In addition to identifying areas to target with spraying, the app enables the UN agency to provide warnings to people who have not yet been affected by the invading swarms.

"Information obtained via the eLocust3m app is used to assess the current situation on the ground, forecast its development and warn locust affected countries and the international donor community of likely locust invasions and plagues," the UN agency said.

The UN agency in 2015 launched a program called eLocust3 in 21 countries on the frontlines in the battle against desert locusts.

The technology was upgraded in February last year to offer a suite of alternatives for collecting the basic data required for control operations and forecasting. The eLocust3m is the version for mobile phones.

While southern Africa grapples with the African migratory locust outbreaks, East Africa has been dealing with persistent invasions of desert locusts.

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