Taming locusts in Senegal: Working with communities, empowering women

Locusts are a major pest in many parts of the world, damaging plants and livelihoods. Senegal is one such place; farmers constantly battle migrating swarms of the local Senegalese grasshopper.

Led by Associate Professor Arianne Cease from the School of Sustainability and funded by USAID, the Global Locust Initiative went to Senegal — an area where they’ve been working since 2016 — to see if changing crops’ nutrients would deter locusts and to work with local communities and organizations to monitor and manage locust numbers.

The initiative, part of ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation, is devoted to researching the complex problem of locusts and finding solutions alongside local collaborators.

The research team spent about a year listening to local experts and communities, which helped them learn about common obstacles and work out practical solutions. Together, they and the communities created two illustrated booklets in local Wolof and French that teach how to distinguish the local locusts from other insects and monitor their numbers.

“It was a really long process, and it involved Senegalese people all along the way,” says Alana Burnham, the institute’s Senegal community outreach specialist and lead on the booklet project.

As another part of the project, the institute provided fertilizer and millet seeds to 50 farmers in two regions. The fertilizer increased the nitrogen in the soil, which increased the protein in the millet. Farmers planted one fertilized plot and one control plot.

“On fertilized plots we saw that there was less damage and that the locusts were less abundant,” says Marion Le Gall, a researcher in the institute and member of the project. (Read this story to find out why.) These plots also yielded more crops, she adds.

Additionally, the team trained groups of women from five communities to create an early warning system. Using light traps in fields, they counted the number of locusts and reported it to the pest control authority.

“I think the women were motivated by a willingness to make something different. It was a challenge for most of them, but they kept going,” says Fatou Bintou Sarr, a Senegalese entomologist on the project.

Similar, locally based monitoring groups that can respond to smaller outbreaks and keep them in check could also be useful in northeast Africa, where devastating desert locust swarms are making headlines.

The institute hopes to expand their efforts by doubling the number of participating farmers, 25% of whom will be women (most landholders in Senegal are men). They also want to distribute educational booklets to other regions in western Africa that face similar challenges.