Addis Ababa, 17 September 2020 The Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) in partnership with Mercy Corps and the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) have developed and deployed a WhatsApp for Business Desert Locust Hotline. The hotline intends to provide some emergency services by supporting the Ethiopian government’s ongoing data collection and surveillance activities regarding the current Locust swarm that is present in the country.

According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the East Africa Region is currently facing an unprecedented food security threat caused by the combined effects of recent severe floods, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the upsurge of desert locusts. Between 2019 to mid-2020, favorable weather and vegetation conditions have contributed to the worst desert locust upsurge in over 25 years, which has devastated crops and pastureland of many East African countries. 

“Locust infestation has become a very serious matter in Ethiopia, and lack of information about the matter has strongly affected the smallholder farmers the most. That is why we have decided to team up with our partners to ensure important and up to date information is delivered to the smallholder farmers in a way they can easily access it.” ATA CEO Khalid Bomba said. 

H.E. State Minister Dr. Mandefro Nigussie, of the Ministry of Agriculture said “Desert Locusts are one of the most destructive migratory pests in the world and we have witnessed an unprecedented spread of these pests for nearly a year. We are deploying a wide range of tools and resources to combat and eliminate these highly mobile and invasive pests before they pose an even great threat”. 

Information about the occurrence on desert locusts, their natures and their movement are currently available on the WhatsApp hotline. This available information is also shared on the ATA run 8028 farmers hotline via voice and text to more than 5 million registered users across Ethiopia. Apart from conveying the message, the 8028 hotline is being used to conduct a survey involving 11,000 development agents and 600 agricultural experts four times a week via SMS on the occurrence and movement of desert locust in four regions of Ethiopia. 

Mercy Corps’ country Director in Ethiopia Melaku Yirga for his part said, “This initiative will support stakeholders’ access to crucial data that helps to monitor and track desert locust movements and predict future movements and inform policies”. He added that “ The delivery of such information not only will help avert potential disasters it will also help connect people to the resources and opportunities they need to build strong, stable livelihoods that can withstand future challenges”. 

The hotline has a prepopulated chatbot that provides basic information about desert locusts, latest observations, and information what to do and what not to do when encountering the pests. The data was collected from a wide range of automated and manual mechanisms during the Ethiopian Planting season. The collected data then uses expertise and environmental research infrastructures from within the cross-disciplinary spectrum of agronomy, biology, entomology, meteorology, computer science and telecommunications to analyze it and generate the needed data. 

The Ethiopian Desert Locust WhatsApp hotline can be accessed by texting ‘‘Locust’ ‘Laqin’ ‘Ayaxa’ ‘Hawaannisa’ ‘ኣንበጣ’ ‘አንበጣ’, to +251 95 287 8787 via the WhatsApp application. The system has been identified by partners as a key low-cost mechanism to reach rural communities’ desert locust reporting and information needs at scale. 

The deployment of the WhatsApp desert locust hotline will increase farmer and extensions staff awareness, enhance farmers and extension officers level reporting at scale via SMS and WhatsApp channels available to them, and further demonstrate how technology and digital tools play a crucial role during a global pandemic and lockdowns. 

The new WhatsApp hotline is an addition to the already existing platforms which include an application developed by Plant Village/ FAO, ATA run 8028 Farmers Hotline and the Ministry of Agriculture and regional bureaus of agriculture’s field observations. Moreover, public service announcements that aim to increase the awareness of the public on the matter will be forwarded to the public. 

Interested individuals can also access information regarding the swarm trajectory and predication, average growth projections, average flight dates, average reproduction dates and alike can be accessed by the public by using the following link: 

pennstate.maps.arcgis.com/…s/opsdashboard

According to the FAO, Locust swarms are currently present in eastern Ethiopia between Jijiga, Harar, Dire Dawa, and the Djibouti border, and numerous swarms are in the Afar Region, due to several swarms migrating from Yemen. The good rains witnessed have caused large areas of green vegetation to develop that will allow breeding and a further increase in locust infestations during August and September. The launched WhatsApp for Business desert locust hotline, combined with other digital tools will support the Government of Ethiopia to effectively monitor, control, and combat the pest. 

End. 

For more information, please contact: 

Dagmawi Zeleke, ATA Senior Communications Officer | dagmawi.zeleke@ata.gov.et | +251911181353 

Elias Nure, Mercy Corps Project Management and Regional Technology Expert | enure@mercycorps.orgt | 

About Ethiopian Agriculture Transformation Agency 

The Ethiopian Agriculture Transformation Agency is an initiative of the Government of Ethiopia (GOE) established in 2010. The aim of the Agency is to promote agricultural sector transformation by supporting existing structures of government, private sector and other non-governmental partners to address systemic bottlenecks in delivering on a priority national agenda for achieving growth and food security. 

About Mercy Corps AgriFin Program 

Mercy Corps’ AgriFin is leveraging the power, convenience, and prevalence of mobile phones to help smallholder farmers boost their harvests and incomes. The program employs a market facilitation model to drive scalable, commercial product innovation for smallholder farmers with agricultural ecosystem partners – including mobile network operators, financial institutions, farmer networks, technology innovators, agriculture value chain players, government and other key market stakeholders. To-date, AgriFin has worked with over 100 partners to reach more than 5.5 million smallholder farmers with a range of bundled digital products and services across eight countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, Indonesia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. 

About Mercy Corps Ethiopia Country Office 

Mercy Corps is an international non-governmental humanitarian relief and development organization working in more than 40 countries around the world. Mercy Corps operates in Nutrition, Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), Livestock, and Economic and Markets Development sectors. Mercy Corps has been operating in Ethiopia since 2004, and currently has programs in the Regions of Somali, Oromia, Addis Ababa and SNNP. 

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