XAG Suggests Drones Could Outsmart Locust Swarms at Night
The UN warned last week that East Africa remains under the threat of desert locust invasions, due to the prevailing favourable breeding conditions which enable new swarms to form and increase. As African countries are getting prepared for the imminent locust crisis, the smart agtech company XAG has proposed that agricultural drones, through more targeted night spraying application, can strongly support the current ground and aerial control measures. Drones specifically developed by XAG for agriculture can be used to combat the ravenous pests that have wreaked havoc on food crops and placed millions of people into hunger.
Drones to Ease the Burden
The unusually rapid spreading of locusts in Africa is largely the result of erratic weather associated with climate change. Prolonged rains lead to moist, humid desert lands and flourishing vegetation, which creates a conducive environment for locust swarms to breed freely.
According to the FAO Desert Locust situation updated on 22 January, the Greater Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, is the most-affected region witnessing the arrival of more immature swarms. The estimated above-the-average rainfalls brought by Cyclone Gati cause the swarms to complete maturation and lay eggs. This will give rise to multiple generations to be born during February and March, again putting food security and the livelihoods of rural households in danger since the last upsurge turned calm in July 2020.
Finding versatile, easy-to-use new tools to tackle these notorious locusts becomes more urgent when local farmers and response teams have been struggling to contain them. In times of this crisis, drones provide an innovative complementary solution to the more expensive manned aircraft or the less effective manual spraying method. They can be used to conduct ultra-low-volume (ULV) precision spraying of chemical or biological pesticides to kill the locusts, especially in the impacted areas otherwise inaccessible for ground vehicles and aeroplanes.
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When the locust swarms are unscrupulously flying and densely-packed during day, it is suggested unsafe and ineffective for drones to carry out spraying operations. However, XAG’s agricultural drones with night-operation mode are able to join the locust “air force” under certain circumstances. They can either target the wingless nymphs and hopper bands at the early stage, or launch an attack when the flying adults settle down after sunset.
The use of unmanned devices is also expected to help lessen the strain on supplies and human resources that are needed to suppress the locust outbreaks in the poverty-stricken regions of Africa. 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. Such unmanned technology therefore shows strengths to fight a locust invasion amid travelling restrictions and social distancing imposed due to COVID-19.