FAO: Tracking Locust with Tech


Increased rain and favorable weather sparked swarms of desert locust not seen in Ethiopia and Somalia for 25 years and in Kenya for 70 years. Left unchecked, the UN’s Food and Agriculture (FAO) agency warned of the danger these locust pose. Swarms can travel nearly 100 miles in a day, eat the same amount of food as roughly 35,000 people threatening the food security of the entire region.

Locust swarms make their way into in Kenya. Photo courtesy Bobby Neptune.


To respond quickly and help prevent crop and pasture damage, the FAO needed to be able to track these highly mobile swarms and predict where they were heading next. Working with our deployment partner, 51 Degrees Limited, we created a configuration of EarthRanger with custom reports and processes specifically designed for locust data collection, as well as real-time monitoring of ranger and aircraft response. Sightings of locusts are reported by community members and rangers in the field. Data is shared using FAO’s mobile apps eLocust3m and eLocust3g or through communicating with FAO’s command center.  Those reports are all aggregated in EarthRanger, from where they provide FAO operators and analysts with all historical and current locations of locust swarms – a complete picture of the outbreak. All of the data feed into FAO’s global monitoring and early warning system greatly increasing the planning, situational awareness, and ultimately the impact of their operations.

Rangers use EarthRanger to predict locust movements. Photo courtesy Northern Rangelands Trust.


The use of EarthRanger represents a milestone because it is the first time that FAO and countries have ever utilized a geospatial system for managing aerial operations. Consequently, aircraft were used much more efficiently and effectively such that locust infestations were reduced, the spread of swarms was halted, and a multi-continental plague was averted. The 2020–2021 operations in the Horn of Africa protected the food security of 34 million people and avoided $1.5 billion in cereal and milk losses.

A look at FAO's eLocust3m app developed by PlantVillage at Penn State University. Photo courtesy FAO.

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