CABI researchers are hoping that the concept for a new award-winning digital tool could help in the fight against the devastating armoured bush cricket which is blighting the crops of small-scale farmers in Southern Africa.
The armoured bush cricket (Acanthoplus spp.) has been ravaging the sorghum, millet, pumpkin, cowpea and cucumber crops of farmers in the Zambian town of Siavonga with losses of between 70-100%.
Researchers believe that the pest in Southern Zambia is an even greater concern that the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) as it feeds indiscriminately on all crops.
Furthermore, the problem is made worse by the effects of climate change and indiscriminate deforestation which create a perfect environment for females to lay their eggs in sandy loose soils.
Léna Durocher-Granger and a team of CABI researchers are hoping that the Armoured Bush Cricket app can help smallholder farmers in Southern Africa achieve greater food security and increase their livelihoods within their farming communities.
This includes supporting women who, the researchers say, are increasingly assuming more responsibility in farming than men who look to supplement their income from work outside of farming.
A preliminary study found that more women are involved in planting, weeding, scouting and pest control activities and, as such, are more likely to manage the armoured bush cricket.
The digital tool – which recently won the Atos Digitize Rural-Agriculture Challenge as part of the Innovate2030-SDG11 Innovation Program – works by taking a four-step approach that includes data collection, a distribution map, management section and a feedback bank.
Once combining field and earth observation data to produce the pest model, the digital tool will be able to forecast information related to armoured bush crickets such as its emergence and life stages.
Infestation level and distribution in real-time will enable timely and targeted actions for control. Long-term management is fundamental to this pest problem as season by season control has failed. Strategies include agroforestry, intercropping and the use of entomopathogenic fungus.
The app is seen as a key decision-making and communication tool that can be used by extension officers, government scientists and Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs).
Miss Durocher-Granger, project lead, said, “In early 2021, farmers from Siavonga, Zambia, asked for support from the Ministry of Agriculture and CABI to fight a local insect which has become a major pest over the past 50 years.
“We witnessed the devastation that the armoured bush cricket caused where crop productivity is already hindered by climate change. The team worked with farmers and government officials to develop a project where the digital solution would be central in collecting data to better understand the pest’s biology, ecology and development, and send alerts to extension officers on future outbreaks.”
Farmers in Southern province of Zambia are increasingly and disproportionally affected by climate change. The region is characterized by annual average precipitation of <800 mm (December to March) and temperature of 26.7 ̊C. However, a reduction in rainfall of 3 to 4 % and an increase of 1.82°C in temperature is predicted for the region by 2050. An increase in extreme rainfall events (heavy rainfalls followed by many years of droughts) exacerbates cricket outbreaks due to build-up of the eggs in dormancy.
It is hoped that the digital solution can be developed further with financial backing and that it will help farmers increase their yields while dealing with pest outbreaks sustainably – without relying on pesticides as the main method of control.
Miss Durocher-Granger added, “There is little existing and readily available information for extension officers and farmers in relation to armoured bush cricket outbreaks. No digital supporting tool currently exists in tracking and forecasting the pest.
“Our proposed digital tool and services will fill a much-needed gap in the market and improve smallholder farmers capabilities in combating future pest infestations.
“The successful integration of our tool into local infrastructure will hopefully spark the expansion of the mobile app and wider services to cover local pest problems that have arisen due to increasing climatic threats.”
This blog is part of the GFAR Partners in Action series, celebrating the achievements of our diverse network of partners who are working together to shape a new, sustainable future for agriculture and food. Each month we will be showcasing stories related to a key theme in agri-food research and innovation. The theme for May is ‘Small – scale family farming in an era of change’.
Join the conversation in the comments below or share this article on social media using #GFARinAction.