Home Science Environmental news Empowering West Africa Against Locust Threats – Harnessing Expertise Of Women Scientists

Empowering West Africa Against Locust Threats – Harnessing Expertise Of Women Scientists


Source: Agathe Diama, Senior Communications Specialist for West and Central Africa

A Machine Learning Engineer at SERVIR West Africa Program is strengthening the p-Locust platform for better locust risk predictions.

Safeguarding crops and farmer livelihoods across West Africa from devastating desert locust plagues has been strengthened thanks to advances in predictive agricultural tools forged by African women scientists under the ICRISAT-led USAID SERVIR project.

Rising temperatures, rainfall pattern modifications, and shifting weather can contribute to creating favourable breeding conditions for desert locusts, accelerating their reproduction cycles and expanding their habitats.

The consequences for farming communities can be devastating.

To help mitigate this scenario, a new tool called the “p_Locust Platform,” launched by the Regional Climate Center for West Africa and the Sahel (AGRHYMET-RCC) – a member of SERVIR WA – and the Commission for Desert Locust Control in the Western Region (CLCPRO), is helping to predict and prevent locust outbreaks more effectively.

The platform offers real-time environmental and climatic data through predictive modeling and monitors ecological conditions.

This information helps surveillance teams prevent crop damage and safeguard essential food supplies.

While the platform has proven successful, it has been significantly enhanced by the contributions of Ms. Fatoumata Haidara, a Machine Learning Engineer from Mali.

Through her work, Fatoumata has introduced an expanded array of weather indices and integrated a vegetation classification layer, using a metric to quantify the status and density of vegetation based on sensor data.

The platform now identifies potential locust population development conditions more accurately, forecasts infestation risk areas, and evaluates habitat suitability.

Locust Plagues Can Wreak Havoc On Smallholder Farming Communities Decimating Crops And Threatening Livelihoods
Locust Plagues Can Wreak Havoc On Smallholder Farming Communities Decimating Crops And Threatening Livelihoods

This makes it an invaluable tool to strengthen preventive control strategies, support decision-making for policymakers, and ultimately aid farmers and herders.

Fatoumata said the new enhancements extend beyond the agricultural arena.

“This proactive approach not only helps safeguard crops and protect livestock grazing but it also fosters stability in both urban and rural areas, serving as a preventative measure against conflicts that can arise after crops and grasslands have been devastated by locusts,” said Fatoumata.

Fatoumata attributes her accomplishments to the support provided to her as a recipient of the SERVIR WA Small Grants Program, which enabled her to research the environmental factors influencing desert locust behaviour, reproduction, and population dynamics while also using artificial intelligence.

Director General of ICRISAT, Dr Jacqueline Hughes, said the work of Fatoumata exemplifies a new generation of African women scientists making a positive impact on their local communities through being supported by innovative projects such as SERVIR.

“Empowering African women scientists isn’t just about breaking gender barriers; it’s about rewriting the narrative of possibility, innovation, and progress for future generations through creating supportive enabling environments.

“Thanks to the work of partners such as USAID, NASA, AGRHYMET-RCC, and the Western Region’s Desert Locust Control Commission, we are increasingly seeing the work of women such as Fatoumata and other scientists from across Africa shape the future of a more resilient continent,” said Dr Hughes.

Why is this work important and why are we doing it?

Addressing Locust Risk Management Challenges: Enhancing the efficiency and accuracy of locust risk predictions addresses the major challenges associated with managing and mitigating the impact of locust infestations.

Providing Precision and Extended Lead Times: By delivering higher precision and extended lead times, the upgraded P-Locust platform enables proactive decision-making, empowering policymakers and communities to implement timely interventions and reduce the impact of locust infestations.

Empowering Decision-Makers with Advanced Tools: The platform’s real-time insights, customizable views, and interactive features empower decision-makers with the necessary information for proactive planning and resource allocation, ultimately contributing to better agricultural outcomes and food security.

Enhancing Agricultural Productivity and Livelihoods: To improve crop yields, enhance livestock grazing, and increase resilience against food insecurity and economic fluctuations. By offering early warning tools and supporting informed decision-making, the project contributes to the overall stability of communities, helping to prevent conflicts arising from food shortages and economic difficulties.

P-Locust Services was developed as a joint effort between research institutions, government bodies, and local communities. ​ The initiative has been led by Dr. Idrissa Maiga and Dr. Mansour Mahamane from AGRHYMET-RCC ​ with the support of various partners.

SERVIR-West Africa is a geospatial data-for-development program
​that responds to the needs of West African countries led by ICRISAT and funded by USAID.

​Header photo by Tiksa Negeri, Reuters.

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