Monitoring Locust Swarms Using Drones 

The integration of drone technology in locust forecasting and treatment is an affordable option with the advantage of being unmanned. Find out more:

Monitoring Locust Swarms Using Drones 
Images from ©FAO/Sven Torfinn

Monitoring Locust Swarms Using Drones 

Every year, farmers face huge agricultural losses due to high temperatures, water scarcity, or unexpected rainfall. Wiping out of crops by locusts is not uncommon. From West Africa to India, locusts attack the vegetation in search of food resulting in destructive plagues. 

Monitoring and preventing these attacks is crucial to saving the crops and prevent farmers from financial losses. Drones are already being used in agriculture for various purposes like fertilizer spraying and crop monitoring. The integration of drone technology in locust forecasting and treatment is an affordable option with the advantage of being unmanned.

Images from ©FAO/Sven Torfinn

UAVs can be used to spray chemical pesticides if it is found that the outbreak has turned into the swarm. Since locust swarms can fly up to 150 kilometres per day, forecasting is as important as for a natural disaster. 

A few days back, India decided to buy drones and equipment specially designed to monitor the locust movement. Spraying insecticide at the right time could ward off a new outbreak and save crops. Locusts are a major threat to food security, and even a small swarm can consume food of about 35,000 people in a day. 

Using drones to stay a step ahead of swarms

The first benefit of using drones is that no humans will have direct contact with the pests. Secondly, they can be used in specific spots without wasting time and pesticides. It also reduces health hazards from chemicals. 

FAO partnered with HEMAV to find a solution to locust attacks using drone technology. Drones equipped with thermal cameras and high-resolution sensors can map any potential outbreak area. 

Rotary wing drones can take detailed images of an area. After fitting micro-sprayers, they can be sent In targeted missions. On the other hand, fixed-wing drones are suitable to identify vegetation patches in vast deserts. Kenya is the first country for locust surveillance after a grave threat to food security using FAO drones.

Use of Satellite imagery 

A combination of drones and satellite monitoring can minimize the impact of locusts. Penn State University has developed eLocust3m, a mobile-friendly app to share geo-referenced reports of swarm movements. Since satellite imaging can penetrate and identify moisture under the dry top layer of soil, it is useful to locate ideal spots for egg-laying. FAO, NASA, and ESA are harnessing this data to forecast the outbreak. 

Satellite images provide valuable information like where it is raining, and vegetation is developing. It helps in predicting favourable breeding conditions of pests. Each map pixel is studied for changes every day. The field officer becomes alert on seeing an emerging green. 

To fulfil one of the most important sustainable development goals- a world without hunger, it is important to save crops. Locust experts can take full advantage of drone technology for aerial and ground operations. 

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