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Satellites forewarn of locust plagues

13 June 2017

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Satellites are helping to predict favourable conditions for desert locusts to swarm, which poses a threat to agricultural production and, subsequently, livelihoods and food security.

Desert locusts are a type of grasshopper found primarily in the Sahara, across the Arabian Peninsula and into India. The insect is usually harmless, but when they swarm they can migrate across long distances and cause widespread crop damage.

During the 2003-05 plague in West Africa, more than eight million people were affected. Up to 100% losses were reported on cereals, 90% on legumes and 85% on pasture. It took nearly $600 million and 13 million litres of pesticide to bring the plague under control.

Satellites can monitor the conditions that can lead to swarming locusts, such as soil moisture and green vegetation. ESA recently teamed up with international partners from Algeria, France, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Spain and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to test how data from satellites such as ESA's Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity mission - or SMOS - can be used to predict locust plagues.

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