- The drones have been developed and deployed by HEMAV Foundation, which has created a custom-made tool to fight the Desert Locust crisis.
- The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Sudan’s Plant Protection Directorate (PPD) are training locust control teams in drone use.
In a first for Sudan, authorities there are now using drones to search for habitats conducive to hosting the voracious Desert Locust.
The Greater Horn of Africa region has for over a year been contending with an unprecedented invasion of this destructive crop and pasture eating pest. Surveillance to spot the locusts – especially in remote and hard to reach areas – so they can be treated before attacking food crops or pastures is a key strategy in containing the threat.
The drones being used in Sudan can perform autonomous flights of 90 minutes and have embedded sensors capable of automatically detecting vegetation suitable for desert locust, thanks to artificial intelligence. They also use visual cameras that offer an aerial view of survey zones to find desert locust swarms, and other useful information for national locust control officers.
The drones were developed by HEMAV Foundation, a Spain-based nonprofit organization working on innovation and technology in the social and humanitarian environment, working in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Sudanese authorities.
An initial deployment by Sudan’s Plant Protection Directorate (PPD) of three drones took place in January, supported by a training course organized in collaboration with FAO and supported by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) and the African Development Bank (AfDB). Ten locust officers from different regions of Sudan were trained in managing the drones.
“The drones are an innovative technology and, in this case, they have become a useful tool for the survey tasks carried out by our teams, allowing them to increase the prospected areas and get information from zones that are difficult to access”, says Mahgoub Mousa, Manager of the PPD’s Locust Control Department (LCD).
Sergi Tres, HEMAV Foundation Project Manager, adds: “The deployment of the drones in Sudan has been satisfactory for everyone. The locust officers in Sudan are ready to start working with drones while we could experience first-hand the difficulties of the task that they must carry out and to hear their advice to improve our technology for future versions”.
Rolling out in other regions
With Sudan’s first field teams trained in their use, the drones are currently being used in operations in the country’s Red Sea Coast Region.
Now that that the drones meet FAO technical requirements and the needs of locust-affected countries, HEMAV Foundation is manufacturing more of the mobile devices to continue with the deployment in other countries during the upcoming months. The next country to integrate this new technology into their national locust programme will be Saudi Arabia, followed by other nations affected by the current locust upsurge.
A powerful new tool that enables enhanced vigilance
In September 2020, a large number of mature Desert Locust swarms invaded Sudan across the country’s southern border and infested vast areas, spreading mainly between the Atbara River and Red Sea Hills. Rainfall in these areas supported widespread breeding of the pest.
A smaller invasion of immature swarms occurred during December 2020 on the Red Sea coast in Tokar Delta and nearby areas adjacent to the Eritrean border. Since then, thanks to locust control operations by Sudanese authorities in partnership with FAO, as well as drying conditions, locust numbers have declined in the country.
Nonetheless, maintaining a high level of surveillance and vigilance is critical to averting a resurgence of the swarms. “That is why these drones developed by HEMAV are such a useful tool. They are a powerful tool that will allow Sudan’s locust control authority to continuously monitor for threats, even in distant and hard to reach areas,” said Mamoon Al Sarai Alalawi, Secretary of FAO’s Commission for controlling the Desert Locust in the Central Region. “Moving forward, other countries will now be able to benefit from the recent experience in Sudan,” he added.