The Kenyan-developed app uses satellite data, soil sensors, local weather patterns and machine learning to deliver predictions on where locusts migrate and breed.
Amongst the devastation that plagued the world in 2020 were a string of desert locust outbreaks that affected 23 countries across East Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.
As the page turned to 2021, reports have warned of swarms continuing their southward migration across the Horn of Africa. Last week, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released $1.5 million for desert locust control operations in Kenya, which has since been reeling from its worst infestation in 70 years.
Amid this upsurge, one company has turned to artificial intelligence (AI) to help mitigate the damage caused by locust swarms.
The roll out of a new tool called Kuzi, the Swahili name for the locust-eating bird known as the wattled starling, generates a real-time heat map of locusts across Africa, displays all potential migration routes and offers a locust breeding index.
It predicts migration and breeding routes across countries spanning the Horn of Africa and East Africa by using satellite data, soil sensor data, ground meteorological observation and machine learning.
Kuzi is an initiative developed and funded by the Nairobi-based company Selina Wamucii, an online platform that connects buyers around the globe to African food and agricultural produce.
“The long term goal is to make Kuzi the go-to tool for monitoring and control of locusts across Africa,” John Oroko, CEO of Selina Wamucii, told TRT World.
According to the FAO, a swarm of 40-80 million locusts can consume the amount of food equivalent to that eaten by 35,000 people in a day. Strengthening early detection and control measures are critical in desert locust management and offer farmers a vital tool in the wider battle against food insecurity.
According to Kuzi’s website, the tool “provides the foundation for early warning, forecasting, and preventive control strategy,” ultimately allowing for a more efficient and timely intervention.
Oroko says that farmers and pastoralists can now sign up to receive free SMS alerts that give them up to three months advance notice when their areas and farms are at risk of attack.
The app is currently available to users in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Somalia, and text alerts can be delivered in regional languages of Kiswahili, Amharic and Somali.
At the moment, Oroko says there is a keen appetite to source funders for additional features and enhancements. Eventually, the plan is to expand Kuzi’s reach to cover the rest of the African continent – and beyond.
“It is our strong belief that the world will eventually turn to tools like Kuzi in the fight against locusts,” he says.