“Saying ‘Oh, there are locusts in northern Kenya’ doesn’t help at all,” Mr Kresman said. “We need real-time longitude and latitude coordinates.”
Instead of trying to rewrite the locust tracking software for newer tablets, Mr. Kresman believes it would be more effective to create a simple smartphone app that would allow anyone to collect data as an expert. He contacted Dr. Hughes, who had already created a similar mobile tool with the Food and Agriculture Organization to track a devastating crop pest, the autumn army worm, through PlantVillage, which he founded.
Unlike the previous tablet-based program, anyone with a smartphone can use eLocust3m. The app presents photos of locusts at different stages of their life cycle, which helps users diagnose what they see in the field. GPS coordinates are recorded automatically and algorithms double-check the photos submitted with each input. Garmin International also helped with another program that worked on satellite broadcasters.
“The app is really easy to use,” said Ms. Jeptoo of PlantVillage. Last year, she recruited and trained locust trackers in four severely affected Kenyan regions. “We had scouts who were between the ages of 40 and 50, and even they were able to use it.”
In the last year, more than 240,000 records of locusts have come from East Africa, collected by PlantVillage scouts, government-trained staff and citizens. But that was only the first step. The parties then had to act systematically on the data to eliminate the locusts. In the first few months, however, officials drafted strategies “on the back of envelopes,” Mr Kresman said, and there were only four pesticide spraying aircraft in the region.
When Batian Craig, director of 51 Degrees, a security and logistics company focused on wildlife conservation, saw Mr Cresman quoted in a locust news item, he realized he could help.