Tools for Desert Locust Early Warning and Control

John Furlow, Deputy Director of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, gives a virtual tour of IRI’s desert locust maproom, originally developed in collaboration with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

Video transcript:

If you paid any attention to the news over the past few years, you may feel like we’re living through Old Testament times. There have been record floods in the Mississippi Valley of the United States, floods in England floods in India. We’ve seen massive fires in California that have been dwarfed by the massive fires in Australia. Now East Africa is facing swarms of desert locusts.

I’m John Furlow with the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, part of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. At IRI, we specialize in helping people use science to anticipate and prepare for these types of disasters. In the case of locusts, we’d like to highlight a set of mapping tools we developed about 15 years ago to help people see where locusts are likely to breed and swarm. The tools are freely available on the web, if you know where to look. I’ll walk you through how to find the information.

First, go to, then click on Resources. Scroll down to the Maprooms. Once you’re in the Maproom area, lets choose Food Security, and then the Locust Maproom.

We designed these maps together with desert locust experts so that on one page they have all the different types of information they need to pinpoint areas of concern, from rainfall accumulation to greenness or plant growth.

Locusts like to feed on fresh young plants, so knowing where vegetation is just starting to grow can give a locust control officer an idea of where to find and kill locusts before they swarm. The Greenness Estimates map gives us that information.

Once we’re in the map, I’m going to draw a box around the area in East Africa. Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda have been in the news lately because of the locust swarms. Next, I can enter specific dates to see how plants grew and matured over a given time period. Lets look at July of last year up to the end of January.

The map room is going to give us an animation of plant growth over the last six or seven months. The red, orange and yellow dots on the map represent the youngest plants, and the light shades of green are those that are up to about two months old. Darker areas show vegetation more than 70 days old, and probably represent perennial plants and forests. Locusts prefer younger plants. A locust control team can use this map to check where locusts are likely to find food and go there to investigate and spray, if appropriate. This saves them time and money.

IRI developed this maproom with the locust team at the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations specifically for locust control in parts of West Africa. That region hasn’t seen a major swarm since then. The maproom covers the entire locust belt, from West Africa across to India. If you’d like to learn more about our work on desert locusts or any of our other map rooms, please contact us or message us via Twitter.