Drones could become the frontline defence against the swarms of deseert locust expected to devastate east Africa in the coming months.
Favourable breeding conditions are predicted to result in a further season of destruction as the insects move acrose the continent eating all in their path.
The smart agtech company XAG says it has the answer – using agriculture drones to spray pesticide during the night as a compliment to the existing ground and aerial control measures in place.
Climate change is being blamed for the increased locust problem, with prolonged spells of rain over the desert creating moist, humid lands and flourishing vegetation – ideal for the swarms to breed.
The Greater Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, is currently the most-affected region having already witnessed the arrival of more immature swarms.
The locusts have already laid eggs across the region, leading to multiple generations to be born during February and March.
The drones can provide a cheaper and more effective way of delivering chemical and biological pesticides with low-level passes over affected areas.
According to XAG, the locust are too densely packed during the day to allow drones to operate safely, but they can be used to precision target the wingless nymphs and hopper bands at the early stage, or attack the flying adults after they settle down after sunset.
Fitted with four rotary atomisers, XAG’s agricultural drones can operate fully autonomous on a predetermined path and deliver uniform sprays three metres above the targeted locust swarms.
This means that less sophisticated skills of the field operators are required, while reducing the quantities of pesticides used to minimum level.
The Zambian ministry of agriculture is likely to the first body to employ the drones in the night-time operations.
In 2019, XAG worked with Zambia-based company Sunagri to provide drone interventions that yielded success to manage the crop-devouring fall armyworm.
Fraser Zhang, the owner of Sunagri Zambia, said: “During daytime, the locust swarms spread out over an extremely large area and stay mobile in the air for long periods.
“Their dynamic movement makes them much more difficult to be contained.
“But at night, what we would aim for are static objects which can be accurately sprayed.”
The Desert locusts are one of the species of short-horned grasshoppers which have been considered the world’s most destructive migratory pest.
They usually form into a swarm whose density can reach up to 80 million per square kilometre, eating massive amounts of crops and vegetations and leaving people inflicted with food losses.
The locusts can reproduce exponentially, and if left unchecked, a group of its population would multiply 20-fold in only three months and grow 400 times in half a year.
Mr Zhang added: “The western province of Zambia is worst-hit by the locusts.
“It is anticipated that the mature swarms have already laid eggs at this point, which will hatch and lead to a new wave of invasions in coming months.”
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