This year, many countries in eastern Africa including Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia have seen the worst desert locust outbreak in over two decades, causing massive concern for the livelihoods of many farmers and the state of food security in these areas. The desert locust breeding season began in December 2019 and since then, the pests have wreaked havoc on croplands throughout the affected areas while an upcoming rainy season may further exacerbate the infestation. In a recent article, Could Satellites Help Head Off a Locust Invasion?, the NASA Earth Observatory describes the ongoing effort of agricultural experts to use satellite data to understand and decrease the desert locust threat.
NASA Harvest Africa Lead, Dr. Catherine Nakalembe along with NASA Harvest partners at SERVIR, FAO, USAID, the World Food Program, the Nairobi Regional Center of Resources for Mapping Development, the Greater Horn of Africa IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Center, and the NASA Short-term Prediction Research and Transition Center (SpoRT) NASA Earth Science Disasters Program, teamed up in an effort to best provide remotely-sensed data and other agricultural monitoring resources to aid governments and farmers with crop forecasting and locust migration tracking. “We work in close coordination with national ministries through our regional partners, and we hope the outcomes from our ongoing work can ultimately support those who are in the front line of managing the current outbreak,” says Dr. Nakalembe. The locusts have infected over 173,000 acres of croplands throughout Kenya since January 2020 and the spread of the insects has continued to raise food supply concerns as they breed and migrate.
The team is currently using remote sensing to monitor soil moisture, vegetation, and environmental factors that are known to affect the life cycle of the pests in an effort to decrease the spread of the outbreak. Particularly in developing nations, this remote sensing data is critical for informing early action in areas that are likely to be affected in light of the fact that an infestation at the early stages of the locust life cycle is easier to mitigate. Because the locusts reproduce at a very fast rate and there is a strong connection between soil moisture level and breeding, researchers are focusing on remote soil moisture data to determine the most likely breeding grounds so that governments and farmers can spray pesticides. By continuing to pool resources and working closely on a collaborative response to the locust outbreak, researchers and policy makers alike hope to intervene early, reduce the spread of the pests, and ensure that food supply is secure.
Visit the NASA Earth Observatory website for original posting and to learn more about the ongoing desert locust outbreak and coordinated response.