Swarms Of Locusts Are Coming, And Satellites Can Predict Them 3 Months In Advance

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Satellites can predict when massive swarms of desert locusts will form in Africa, according to a Tuesday statement by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

FAO officials are now able to predict these swarms up to three months in advance using data from European Space Agency (ESA) satellites. Desert locusts swarms pose an immense threat to agriculture, potentially triggering massive famine and economic disruption. More than eight million people were impacted during a locust plague in 2003 in West Africa.

“At FAO, we have a decades-long track record of forecasting plagues and working closely with countries at greatest risk to implement control measures,” Keith Cressman, FAO’s senior locust forecasting officer, said in a press statement. “By bringing our expertise together with ESA’s satellite capabilities we can significantly improve timely and accurate forecasting. Early warning means countries can act swiftly to control a potential outbreak and prevent massive food losses.”

A one square kilometer desert locust swarm contains 40 million locusts, and eats the same amount of food in one day as about 35,000 people. Over 90 percent of some crops were devoured by the locusts and it took nearly $600 million and 13 million liters of pesticide to bring the plague under control.

Satellites can monitor conditions including soil moisture and vegetation levels that cause locust swarms, giving countries valuable months to prepare.

“I use the data products to understand the current situation, as well as the evolution of locust outbreaks,” Ahmed Salem Benahi, chief information officer for Mauritania’s National Centre for Locust Control, said in a press statement. “We now have the possibility to see the risk of a locust outbreak one to two months in advance, which helps us to better establish preventive control.”

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