“Saying ‘Oh, there are locusts in northern Kenya’ does not help at all,” Mr Cressman said. “We need real-time latitude and longitude coordinates.”
Instead of trying to rewrite the locust-tracking software for newer tablets, Mr. Cressman that it would be more efficient to create a simple smartphone app that allows anyone to collect data like an expert. He reached out to Dr. Hughes, who had already set up a similar mobile tool with the Food and Agriculture Organization to track down a destructive crop animal, the autumn worm, through PlantVillage, which he founded.
Unlike the previous tablet-based application, anyone with a smartphone can use eLocust3m. The app presents photos of grasshoppers at different stages of their life cycle, helping users diagnose what they see in the field. GPS coordinates are automatically detected, and algorithms double-check photos submitted with each record. Garmin International also helped with another program that worked on satellite transmitters.
“The app is really easy to use,” said Ms Jeptoo of PlantVillage. Last year, she recruited and trained locusts in four hard-hit Kenyan regions. “We had scouts who were 40-50 years old and even they were able to use it.”
In the past year, more than 240,000 carob registries have flooded in from East Africa, collected by PlantVillage scouts, government-trained staff and citizens. But that was only the first step. Countries then needed to act on the data in a systematic way to eradicate locusts. In the first few months, however, officials strategized “on the back of envelopes,” Mr Cressman said, and the entire region had only four pesticide spraying aircraft.
When Batian Craig, director of 51 Degrees, a security and logistics company focused on protecting wildlife, saw Mr. Cressman quoted in a news story about locusts, he realized he could help.