Geospatial information for sustainable food systems

Assessing impacts of 2019-2020 outbreak desert locust in the Horn of Africa using geospatial technologies

The locust upsurge affecting East Africa is a graphic and shocking reminder of this region's vulnerability. The upsurge comes as an exacerbating factor to food insecurity. Indeed, the East and Horn of Africa region is already home to some of the most food insecure populations in the world. Now, with countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia currently facing one of the worst desert locust infestations in decades, coupled with the impacts of COVID-19, experts fear that the health crisis will transform into a food crisis. 

Use of geospatial technologies to monitor impacts of desert locusts on rural livelihoods and support response and recovery actions can be extremely useful particularly where access to timely information is lacking. However, despite the latest technological progresses in observing and monitoring environmental and agricultural changes, the present locust management strategies still critically lack timely and accurate geospatial data and information. The ability to predict spatio-temporal dynamics of locust population is still not adequate to provide a full control, forecast, damage estimation and adequate in-country support to ensure food security and sustainable livelihoods. 

Providing accurate and robust geospatial information in support to the desert locust crisis response has been the concern of FAO along with other institutions (e.g. the global Food Security Cluster, NASA-SERVIR, International Rice Research Institute, Famine Early Warning Systems Network, University of Louvain and WFP) for enhancing their collaboration for a better understanding of this complex phenomenon since the outbreak on the late 2019 and early 2020.

The time series assessment of the phenological features through the analysis of vegetation indices (NDVI and EVI2) coupled with the precipitation and the agricultural activities in the affected areas allowed to distinguish the anomalies related to the impact of locust from those related to precipitation stress or to the crop harvest. 

The FAO Geospatial Unit in collaboration with WFP Geospatial Unit collaborate in the development of Standard Operation Procedure which integrates the different tools and methodologies in a unique workflow that will cover each locust crisis phases. This collaboration aims to enhance regional, national and local capacities with innovative geospatial technologies, data and information to increase the resilience of agro-ecosystems vulnerable and impacted by Locust plague. In addition, it will help in the safeguard of the food security of the most vulnerable rural populations, by providing harmonised and timely data and information through coordinated efforts including research and development of robust methodologies to assess the risks and the damages related to the impacts. Furthermore, it will also take into consideration the estimation of the costs in term of socio-economic impact; support and develop emergency response plan and resilience interventions in support to in-country and regional programs.