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Scientists in East Africa monitoring the movements of the worst African locust plague in 70 years have developed a “Supercomputer” to end the further spread of these locust swarms into the region. 

Kenneth Mwangi, a satellite information scientist, based at the Intergovernmental Authority on Development climate prediction and applications center in Nairobi, said researchers were running a supercomputer model to predict breeding areas that may have been missed by ground monitoring. These areas could become sources of new swarms if not immediately sprayed.

According to Mwangi, “the model will be able to tell us the areas in which hoppers are emerging.” The satellite information scientists added that with the technology they will be able to get ground information from areas that might become a source of an upsurge or a new generation of hoppers. It becomes very difficult and expensive to control when the locusts have fully metamorphosed, “The focus will be on stopping hoppers becoming adults, as that leads to another cycle of infestation. We want to avoid that and advise governments early before an upsurge happens,” Mwangi said. 

The UK aid under its Weather and Climate Information Services for Africa program have funded the supercomputer £35m. Although Mwangi stated that “effective control is estimated to be around $60m (£47m) but, if an upsurge occurs, the cost will soar to $500m.”

Nevertheless, the funding has led to a successful forecast in the movement of locusts using data such as wind speed and direction, temperature, and humidity. Researchers are now inputting data on soil moisture and vegetation cover to help predict where eggs have been laid and are likely to hatch and thrive. This will then provide data on where African governments can direct their spraying efforts, helping to control the hoppers before they swarm.

Mwangi disclosed that the model has achieved 90 percent accuracy in forecasting the future locations of the swarms, “So far, we’ve been able to catch where the swarms are going to be.” Mwangi added, “we were able to tell the government of Uganda that locusts are expected to come through and they mobilized the army, and that worked well.” Similarly, with current intervention, “the Kenyan government is on high alert and effective control measures have been put in place.” Mwangi said. 

The locusts landed in south-central Somalia in December 2019 from Yemen, before moving into Kenya and Ethiopia. By February 20, 2020, the insects had spread to seven East African countries, including Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, and South Sudan.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have warned that these fast-breeding locusts could multiply 500 times more in March when the rains bring more vegetation and extend to other regions in Africa. In addition, FAO forwarns that an imminent second hatch of the insects could threaten the food security of 25 million people across the region as it enters the cropping season.

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