Rugged Toughpad Tablets Aid in U.N.’s Innovative Locust Watch Project

For thousands of years, the desert locust has been a genuine threat for hundreds of millions of people in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Its destruction of crops causes distress for farmers, inhabitants and ecosystems alike.

toughpad-rugged-toughpad-tablets-aid-in-uns-BLOG2Credit: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

During quiet periods, called recessions, desert locusts live a solitary life in the dry and semi-dry areas of these regions. The locusts reproduce in specific weather conditions, creating enormous swarms that can contain millions of insects per square mile. Swarms move extremely fast and can affect an area of around 12.4 million square miles and threaten some 60 countries on 20% of the world’s total land surface and cause considerable damage to crops. A swarm the size of 3.9 square miles can consume the same amount of food as 350,000 people in a single day.

To fight and prevent this plague, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) established the Desert Locust Information Service (DLIS) for the daily monitoring of environmental conductions and locust infestations on a global level. The United Nations selected Panasonic Toughpad FZ-A1 rugged Android tablets as an essential element for the success of this innovative project.

DLIS has been providing updated forecasts and alerts to those countries at risk of locust invasion since 1975. In the past few years, the DLIS has taken significant steps forward in the early warning of locust plagues thanks to the satellite mapping of the wide territories affected and to the development of suitable tools to work in extreme environmental conditions.

Today, the monitoring activity of the DLIS is based on the eLocust system, which was implemented for the first time in 2000 and later evolved in eLocust2 (2005) and eLocust3 (2014). After conducting extensive field-testing on many devices from other manufacturers, FAO chose the Panasonic Toughpad as their tool of choice for implementing the eLocust system in the field. Panasonic’s worldwide support and technical expertise allowed other companies involved in the project to develop ad hoc software and satellite communication solutions.

“The software, which is highly intuitive, is installed on Panasonic Toughpad FZ-A1 tablets, distributed to local field officers in the locust-affected countries,” says Mauro Cofelice, Key Account Manager for Panasonic Toughbook-Toughpad. “Through a satellite network, FZ-A1 tablets are connected to national control centers and DLIS in Rome, which coordinates and sends teams to those areas where there’s a high potential of important locust activity.

Cofelice explains that officers in the program use tablets as an advanced navigational tool.

“Conditions are extreme: the areas are remote with no roads, and the diurnal temperature variation is above 40C degrees,” he said. “Once on the spot, officers use the devices as an observation, cataloging, and communication tool. According to their surveys, control centers decide whether to send ground or aerial teams to treat the locust infestations before they can spread and wreak havoc.”


Panasonic provided the project with 375 Toughpad FZ-A1 tablets, which have been distributed by FAO to 22 frontline countries.

“Panasonic Toughpads turned out to be amazing products, robust and reliable, able to respond to all our needs and guarantee a better user experience and longer operational life,” said Keith Cressman, Senior Locust Forecasting Officer.

The eLocust3 application, installed on Panasonic’s rugged tablets, consists of software developed by Novacom (France) for recording field observations and transmitting data by satellite. eLocust3 includes a unique application, called eLocust3D, to help field teams identify areas where locusts may be present in the desert.

Satellite-derived maps showing rainfall and green vegetation, processed by the University of Columbia in New York, are automatically uploaded on the Toughpad tablets. Locust field officers use the latest imagery, combined with their GPS position in the desert and a 3D morphological view, to easily identify the areas where they may find locusts. Once field officers reach these places, they can report their observations by completing a form and sending the data via satellite to the national center and to DLIS in Rome in a matter of minutes so that the need for intervention can be assessed and control teams can be dispatched.

The technology solution has led to invaluable advantages for FAO, as Cressman says: “The data recorded and transmitted by eLocust3 are the basis of the preventive control strategy adopted by FAO and locust-affected countries to fight desert locusts and to reduce the frequency, intensity, and duration of plagues. The use of eLocust3 will undoubtedly lead to an improvement in the monitoring system, in control operations, and in early warning, thereby protecting crops and guaranteeing food security and livelihoods in Africa and Asia in our fight against desert locust and world hunger.”

Click here to learn more about Panasonic’s Toughpad FZ-A1 rugged Android tablet.