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Wednesday, 9 May, 2001, 00:48 GMT 01:48 UK
Kazakhstan tackles locusts from space
Locust swarm
Locusts are a costly menace to the region
By central Asia correspondent Catherine Davis

Kazakhstan has unveiled plans to use satellite technology to help tackle its growing and costly locust problem.

The Kazakh Space Research Institute has joined forces with a Canadian company, Radarsat International, to use satellite data and information on the ground to map and predict infestations of the insect.

Radarsat says the plans could mean a 60% drop in the amount of pesticides used

Each year locusts swarm across the steppe like a moving carpet, devouring crops and vegetation.

Kazakhstan takes preventative measures, but since the end of the former Soviet Union, experts say the locust problem has been getting worse.

Many Kazakh farmers can no longer afford to buy the pesticides needed.

Land has also been abandoned.

It is estimated the country would need some $90m to adequately treat locust-affected areas; a fraction of that is available.

Target spraying

Kazakhstan is an important wheat producer - third in the region after Russia and Ukraine.

Concerned about crop damage, it has sought international assistance.

Locust swarm in Kazakh street
Locust swarms: An annual feature in Kazakhstan
The Radarsat project will focus on a number of sites across the country.

Meteorological data, plus information on soil moisture and locust density, will be used to pinpoint high risk areas for infestations.

These areas can then be targeted for spraying.

Radarsat says this could mean a 60% drop in the amount of pesticides used.

It's also hoped the technology will help to predict the direction of locust migrations.

The idea is to give Kazakhstan a more efficient and environmentally friendly way to find the locusts before they find the country's crops.

The system could also be extended to neighbouring countries.

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