Locust Citizen Reporting: Driving Response through Digital Technology and Open Source ContentSeptember 20, 2021
In 2020, East Africa experienced the dual crises of the largest desert locust invasion in decades and the global COVID-19 pandemic, both threatening farmers’ livelihoods. In response, public health and desert locust messaging was deployed via multiple digital channels to over 16 million smallholder farmers. To support the mapping and control effort, many of these channels were designed to enable farming communities to report sightings of desert locusts, turning rural communities into a large reporting force to assist FAO and the Kenyan/Ethiopian governments map the locations of and direct the control efforts to these voracious migratory pests.
Implementation of Citizen Reporting
Citizen reporting via digital means providing the perfect two-way communications systems to allow both incident reporting and to inform via real time updates on maps, videos and content. The potential to quickly deploy citizen reporting tools was also important. Meet Corps AgriFin had been working with a network of partners in Kenya on a “WhatsApp for Business” Sandbox with Turn.io, to enable partners such as iShamba and Ethiopia’s Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) to complement their SMS and call center-based communications systems with interactive WhatsApp platforms.
Citizen reporting has been critical in complementing extension services at a national and regional scale; informing rural communities about the desert locust threat promptly and providing an important feedback loop between farmers and the mapping and control effort.
At the outset, once the need for citizen reporting was recognized, authorization was secured from enabling bodies to enable the rapid formation of the citizen reporting model. A consortium of partners – with the technical capabilities and domain expertise required to meet the context of desert locusts in Kenya and Ethiopia – was mobilized at each stage of the ecosystem.
With partners and technologies in place, citizen reporting channels were designed and deployed within 2 weeks to support the FAO’s response effort during these early uncertain months, and to provide critical additional data to the ongoing eLocust3m (a locust reporting app developed by PlantVillage), field surveying tools trained extension workers had been deployed with.
The deployment of a range of complementary technology channels was fundamental in supporting each stage of data communication and maximizing the outreach of the citizen reporting model. Pre-existing, trusted media channels, such as Mediae’s Shamba Shape Up TV show and several radio channels, were used to broadcast educational content. Reporting channels, including WhatsApp for Business, SMS, IVR and eLocust3m, were deployed to accommodate a broad spectrum of digital literacy and maximize uptake. In turn, end users could be contacted across these channels by ecosystem partners – for both educational and validation purposes – to provide up-to-date information and sustain the citizen reporting model.
Future Deployment of Citizen Reporting
The response to desert locusts proved that citizen reporting can be used to support the rapid, scalable, and cost-effective collection of data during agriculture and climate-related disasters. Drawing on experience from the desert locust response and other citizen reporting models, a three-step approach has been developed for actors to follow when deploying citizen reporting in the future:
- Potential conveners of citizen reporting models should lay the foundations of any response by identifying potential enablers and blockers and proactively address these in advance. The rapid deployment of a citizen reporting model could be contingent on deploying flexible funding, receiving government authorization, mobilizing relevant partners and leveraging the local digital infrastructure.
- The design of potential citizen reporting models must remain flexible to variables that can differ across contexts and as crises evolve. No one size of citizen reporting model suits all scenarios, but instead it can vary according to the development sector at hand, geographical coverage, predictability of an event, technology environment and types of end user data required. As such, potential conveners of citizen reporting models must remain agile and adapt to each specific context as it evolves.
- Stakeholders should apply a structured approach and general best practices if or when the need for citizen reporting arises. The series of general best practices from the experience of the desert locust and other citizen reporting models can be applied and tailored to the specific context across each stage of data communication and for the coordination of stakeholders
Within the context of climate change and digitization, farming communities have become the frontline of disaster response efforts – through their ability to rapidly crowdsource data – and will continue to do so in the face of other emergencies, including transboundary pest outbreaks (e.g. fall armyworm), drought, floods and soil damage. The future deployment of citizen reporting can reinforce and augment the lessons learned from desert locusts as the model becomes established and applied across broader emergency response efforts.