Data is key to tackling the locust infestation threatening food security in South-Asia and Africa, according to a UN-backed organisation.
For months, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the regions have been fighting massive swarms of locusts, as they try desperately to avert a hunger crisis. As a solution ‘harmful pesticides’ only incur greater environmental costs and Andre Laperriere, the Executive Director of Global Open Data for Agriculture & Nutrition (GODAN), is calling instead for open data resources to be made available to support efforts in India to fight an insect which – in one day – can destroy food that would otherwise feed 35,000 people.
“Amidst the current pandemic and a heatwave, India is facing another outbreak that now threatens its food security – Locus infestation. The country now faces the worst locust outbreak in 25 years, with swarms attacking crops across the west of the country and now moving towards the central states. Locusts, which attack crops and fields, are known to eat twice their body weight in a single day, and a swarm can destroy enough food to feed 35,000 people,” Andre said.
India need only look to countries like Kenya, which is experiencing its worst infestation for 70 years, to know time is running out to avert a similar outcome.
Andre continued: “The short window for India to address the ongoing locust outbreak will mean that the government will have to identify effective methods to avoid extensive crop losses ahead of the monsoon season. The new wave of locusts could pave the way for more food insecurity which will leave more people at risk of starvation, in which 194 million in India are already undernourished. There are additional concerns over the impact on livelihoods and the damage to the national agricultural economy.”
While GODAN’S Executive Director accepts controlling locust swarms is difficult, he says early action can prevent a swarm being formed.
“Locust population interactions, direction of movement and scale of displacement, and the predictability of seasonal rainfall are complex calculations that require open source data and information that is transparently available for researches to effectively predict the chances of an outbreak. Resource pooling and creating open source tools can help in monitoring and mitigating an outbreak,” he said. “Data is critical to preventing an outbreak, as rainfall and environment monitoring can help map out areas to be likely affected. For example, soil moisture data can help predict an outbreak 2-3 months in advance, giving plenty of time for preparation.”
Andre added: “Governments should therefore work towards open data policies and technologies to be effective against some of the key challenges that we face. More often than not, early preparation and data monitoring would be really helpful in preventing such outbreaks Pesticides are in effective as the size of the swarms require millions of litters, which are costly and harmful for the environment.”
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