Farmers now use US tracking tech, expecting difficult locust season

Paul Allen’s Institute aids South Africa in combating locust swarms

South Africa is bracing itself for a repeat of last season’s locust swarms, the worst in decades, and is banking on a tracking technology backed by the institute of Microsoft Corp.’s late co-founder, Paul Allen, to tackle the infestation. 

Agri Eastern Cape, which represents farmers in the coastal province, started using the Allen Institute for AI’s Earth Ranger system in April to pinpoint where swarms will erupt in September and October, according to Jason Kümm, manager of rural safety and communications, at the organization.

“Things are quietening down, but these locusts have laid eggs,” he said in an interview. “Earth Ranger has allowed us to understand where this has taken place. When conditions are right and these eggs hatch, we will have the resources in place.”

Swarms that spread across the Eastern Cape and neighboring provinces in the summer growing season were as big as 10 000 hectares in some cases, and the infestation rivaled those seen in 1935 and 1983.

The heaviest rains since records began in 1921 in many districts allowed the insects to multiply rapidly. While citrus-growing areas were infested, the locusts didn’t cause significant damage to fruit trees.


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