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Locusts Are A Plague Of Biblical Scope In 2020. Why? And … What Are They Exactly?

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A swarm of desert locusts flies above trees in a Kenyan village. Hundreds of millions of the insects have arrived in Kenya, where they’re destroying farmland. Ben Curtis/AP hide caption

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Ben Curtis/AP

A swarm of desert locusts flies above trees in a Kenyan village. Hundreds of millions of the insects have arrived in Kenya, where they’re destroying farmland.

Ben Curtis/AP

Titanic swarms of desert locusts resembling dark storm clouds are descending ravenously on the Horn of Africa. They’re roving through croplands and flattening farms in a devastating salvo experts are calling an unprecedented threat to food security. On the ground, subsistence planters can do nothing but watch — staring up with horror and at their fields in dismay.

Locusts have been around since at least the time of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, 32 B.C., despoiling some of the world’s weakest regions, multiplying to billions and then vanishing, in irregular booms and busts.

If the 2020 version of these marauders stay steady on their warpath, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization says desert locusts can pose a threat to the livelihoods of 10 percent of the world’s population.

The peril may already be underway: Early June projections by the FAO are forecasting a second generation of spring-bred locusts in Eastern Africa, giving rise to new, powerful swarms of locust babies capable of wreaking havoc until mid-July or beyond.

Here are five things you need to know about locusts to understand the current crisis — and why the tiny invaders are such a big deal.

1. What even is a locust?

There can be a lot of confusion about what exactly a locust is. To the average eye, it’s easy to mix up the critters with cicadas and crickets. The simple answer, though, explains Rick Overson of Arizona State University’s Global Locust Initiative, is that locusts are a very special kind of grasshopper.

A locust on a shea tree — a source of food and income for farmers. Sumy Sadurni/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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Sumy Sadurni/AFP via Getty Images

As Overson explains, there are hundreds of species of grasshoppers, “but only a small handful of those are what we consider locusts.”

That raises a question: What makes a locust a locust? According to Overson, it comes down to a superpower possessed by locusts that enables them to go through a remarkable switch in development.

Most of the time, locusts exist in their “grasshopper phase” — they lead solitary lives, they’re green and pretty unremarkable.

“Nobody really notices them,” Overson says.

The timing of this varies, and the shifts are pretty irregular, but for years, locusts can live like this – alone, biding their time.

But when environmental conditions are right – usually when there’s a lot of rainfall and moisture – something dramatic happens: “They increase in numbers and as they do so, they sense one another around them,” says Overson.

This is what biologists call the “gregarious phase” of the locust.

The creature undergoes a remarkable transformation. “They change their physiology. Their brain changes, their coloration changes, their body size changes,” Overson says. “Instead of repelling one another, they become attracted to one another — and if those conditions persist in the environment, they start to march together in coordinated formations across the landscape, which is what we’re seeing in eastern Africa.”

The ability to change dramatically like this in response to environmental conditions is called phenotypic plasticity. And many species, like some types of coral, exhibit it. Though scientists can’t be certain why locusts developed the trait over time, many believe it’s because they typically live in temperamental and harsh environments.

“Locusts tend to live in areas where resources that they need are very unpredictable,” Overson explains. The Horn of Africa, for instance, is known for being arid, going for years without heavy rain until slammed suddenly by powerful downfalls. “The strongest hypothesis is that these crazy, unpredictable dynamics select evolutionarily for this ability to go through these dramatic changes, to respond when you can capitalize on a rare opportunity and also have capacity to migrate.”

When locusts swarm like this, they ravage agriculture, devouring practically anything in sight.

Though they have teeth, locusts don’t bite humans (unless you, you know, jammed a finger into its mandible; it would maybe bite you then, Overson says.)

2. Where are the locusts swarming, and how big are the swarms?

Swarms are most intense in East African countries, including Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, but data from the FAO’s Desert Locust Watch documents steadily worsening infestations across Southwest Asia and the Middle East. Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Uganda and Iran are among those afflicted.

“In Kenya, it’s the worst outbreak they’ve had to face in the last 70 years,” says Keith Cressman, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s senior locust forecasting officer. “In India or Pakistan, it’s probably the worst they’ve had to face in the last quarter of a century.”

The swarms are gargantuan masses of tens of billions of flying bugs. They range anywhere from a square third of a mile to 100 square miles or more, with 40 to 80 million locusts packed in half a square mile. They bulldoze pasturelands in dark clouds the size of football fields and small cities. In northern Kenya, Cressman says, one swarm was reported to be 25 miles long by 37 miles wide — it would blanket the city of Paris 24 times over.

Experts say the upsurge is likely to be tied to extreme weather events: According to Cressman, powerful cyclones in 2018 dumped water in Oman, Yemen and the Horn of Africa. The wet conditions have persisted, creating ideal bug breeding conditions.

Locusts swarm in a residential area of the Pakistani city of Quetta. The country is suffering its worst locust plague in 25 years. Banaras Khan/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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Banaras Khan/AFP via Getty Images

Once they enter the gregarious phase, a generation of locusts can multiply 20 fold every three months. So when they boom, they do so exponentially, and things quickly get out of hand.

3. How far can locusts travel?

Locusts are migratory, transboundary pests – they ride the winds, crisscrossing swathes of land until they find something they want to munch on. They especially love cereal grain crops, planted extensively across Africa.

“They are powerful long distance flyers, so they can easily go a hundred plus kilometers in a 24-hour period,” Overson notes. “They can easily move across countries in a matter of days, which is one of the other major challenges in coordinated efforts that are required between nations and institutions to manage them.”

In 1988, swarms originating in North Africa crossed the Atlantic Ocean and made it successfully to the Caribbean and South America. Even today, they routinely traverse the Red Sea — a distance of 186 miles. Projections show that current locust populations are poised to spread “all the way from eastern to western Africa by June or July,” Overson says. “There’s major concerns there.”

4. How do locusts affect food security?

Locusts are ravenous eaters. An adult desert locust that weighs around two grams (a fraction of an ounce) can consume roughly its own weight daily — and they’re not picky at all. According to the FAO, a swarm of just 1 square kilometer — again, about a third of a mile — can consume as much food as would be eaten by 35,000 people (or 6 elephants) in a single day.

“When they do descend, they can have almost total devastation,” Overson says. “They can cause 50 to 80% of crops to be destroyed, depending on the time (of year).”

The last large locust outbreak — which started in 2003 and lasted until 2005 — resulted in an estimated $2.5 billion in crop damage. Studies found the economic effect was largely felt by subsistence farmers. Children who grew up during the period were much less likely to go to school, and girls were disproportionately affected.

Making matters worse, many of the countries slammed with the worst infestations are already hobbling from protracted crises — recovering from recessions, fighting natural disasters, racked by conflict and now the coronavirus outbreak.

“We’re talking about a corner of Africa that’s really, really vulnerable,” Cressman says. “They’ve had successive years of drought, and then this year, they’ve had heavy rains and floods. So even without the locusts, they’re already in a precarious situation.”

Now, Cressman says the potential hunger threat is tremendous in a region where 42 million were already slated to face acute food insecurity.

“The locusts are in your field for a morning, and by mid-day, there’s hardly anything left in your field,” he says. “It’s just eaten.”

5. How are countries fighting locusts?

There’s a slate of international institutions that coordinate locust management and response. The primary effort is conducted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which runs the Desert Locust Watch to surveil and track locust migration patterns and oversee regional response efforts.

In individual nations, a lack of cash, competing priorities, and domestic challenges make it hard to mount a long-range pest management strategy. Because locust numbers ebb and flow, Overson says it’s been difficult for countries — like Kenya, which hasn’t seen an infestation in 70 years — to build up intermediate and long-term infrastructure to address outbreaks proactively. That’s why so many governments are now scrambling to come up with solutions.

“It’s hard to maintain funding and political will and knowledge and capacity building when you have these unpredictable boom and bust cycles that could play out over years or decades,” he says. “The drama and spectacle of the outbreak right now is important to cover, but the more nuanced narrative involves the slow, ratchet method of building infrastructure: If you wait until it’s reactive and forget about it until it happens again, we’re going to be in this situation forever.”

Right now, the most effective way to fight outbreaks involves mass aerial sprays of pesticides to kill locusts. Overson says that’s not ideal, given the adverse effect such chemicals have on biodiversity and human health.

Ugandan soldiers spray trees in an effort to kill locusts. Sumy Sadurni/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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Sumy Sadurni/AFP via Getty Images

But emerging technologies may hold promise for the future. For example, the NOAA recently partnered with the United Nations to repurpose technology used to track smoke plumes from fires to predict the migrations of locusts, the Scientific American reported. And in terms of locust extermination, Overson says biopesticides have untapped potential — although lots of research and development is still needed in the area.

Considering all of the other worldwide emergencies that have hit in 2020, aid resources are stretched thin. Pesticide deliveries have been delayed. But Cressman is hopeful that the needed funds will materialize. The FAO has already raised half of the $300 million it expects to need for this effort.

“The international community is very well committed and they’re very much on board — even though there’s a lot that’s being asked of them for many other things at the moment,” he says.

Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/06/14/876002404/locusts-are-a-plague-of-biblical-scope-in-2020-why-and-what-are-they-exactly?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=news

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Security and Sustainability Forum-With Hazel Henderson and Claudine Schneider. 10/22/2020

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Steering Societies Beyond GDP to the SDGs

With Hazel Henderson and Claudine Schneider

October 22, 2020

1:15 pm to 2:15 pm EDT

The next webinar in the SSF series, with ecological economist and futurist Hazel Henderson, will address how the UN SDGs can and should replace GDP as the basis for valuing society leading to an economy based on planet protection and human wellbeing. Claudine Schneider is Hazel’s guest.

GDP accounts for all the public expenditures as “debt” while ignoring the value of the assets they created. If GDP were to be corrected by including the missing asset account, these debt-to-GDP ratios would be cut by up to 50% — with a few keystrokes! Learn why money isn’t what you think it is and why that matters to life on Earth in the next two webinars with Hazel and guests.

Register

Claudine Schneider is a former Republican U.S. representative from Rhode Island. She was the first, and to date only, woman elected to Congress from Rhode Island. She is founder of Republicans for Integrity, which describes itself as a network of “Republican former Members of Congress who feel compelled to remind Republican voters about the fundamentals of our party and to provide the facts about incumbents’ voting records.”

October 22nd webinar with Claudine Schneider and Hazel

Sincerely,

Ed.

Edward Saltzberg, PhD

Executive Director

Security and Sustainability Forum

www.ssfonline.org

[email protected]

Sincerely,

Ed.

Edward Saltzberg, PhD

Executive Director

Security and Sustainability Forum

www.ssfonline.org

Source: https://www.ethicalmarkets.com/63564-2/

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The Briefing: RVShare raises over $100M, Google disputes charges, and more

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Here’s what you need to know today in startup and venture news, updated by the Crunchbase News staff throughout the day to keep you in the know.

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RVShare raises over $100M for RV rentals

RVShare, an online marketplace for RV rentals, reportedly raised over $100 million in a financing led by private equity firms KKR and Tritium Partners.

Akron, Ohio-based RVShare has seen sharp growth in demand amid the pandemic, as more would-be travelers seek socially distanced options for hitting the road. Founded in 2013, the company matches RV owners with prospective renters, filtering by location, price and vehicle types.

Previously, RVShare had raised $50 million in known funding, per Crunchbase data, from Tritium Partners. The company is one of several players in the RV rental space, and competes alongside Outdoorsy, a peer-to-peer RV marketplace that has raised $75 million in venture funding.

Funding news

  • BrightFarms closes on $100M: Indoor farming company BrightFarms said it secured more than $100 million in debt and new equity capital to support expansion plans. The Series E round of funding was led by Cox Enterprises, which now owns a majority stake in the company, and includes a follow-on investment from growth equity firm Catalyst Investors.
  • Anyscale inks $40MAnyscale, the Berkeley-based company behind the Ray open source project for building applications, announced $40 million in an oversubscribed Series B funding round. Existing investor NEA led the round and was joined by Andreessen Horowitz, Intel Capital and Foundation Capital. The new funding brings Anyscale’s total funding to more than $60 million.
  • Klar deposits $15M: Mexican fintech Klar closed on $15 million in Series A funding, led by Prosus Ventures, with participation from new investor International Finance Corporation and existing investors Quona Capital, Mouro Capital and Acrew. The round brings total funding raised to approximately $72 million since the company was founded in 2019. The funds are intended to grow Klar’s engineering capabilities in both its Berlin and Mexico hubs.
  • O(1) Labs rakes in $10.9M: O(1) Labs, the team behind the cryptocurrency Mina, announced $10.9 million in a strategic investment round. Co-leading the round are Bixin Ventures and Three Arrows Capital with participation from SNZ, HashKey Capital, Signum Capital, NGC Ventures, Fenbushi Capital and IOSG Ventures.
  • Blustream bags $3M: After-sale customer engagement company Blustream said it raised $3 million in seed funding for product usage data and digital transformation efforts for physical goods companies via the Blustream Product Experience Platform. York IE led the round of funding for the Worcester, Massachusetts-based company with additional support from existing investors.Pillar secures another $1.5M: Pillar, a startup that helps families protect and care for their loved ones, raised $1.5 million in a seed extension to close at $7 million, The round was led by Kleiner Perkins.

Other news

  • Google rejects DOJ antitrust arguments: In the wake of a widely anticipated U.S. Justice Department antitrust suit against Google, the search giant disputed the charges in a statement, maintaining that: “People use Google because they choose to, not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives.”
  • Facebook said to test Nextdoor rival: Facebook is reportedly testing a service similar to popular neighborhood-focused social Nextdoor. Called Neighborhoods, the feature reportedly suggests local neighborhood groups to join on Facebook.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

Venture investors and leaders in the fintech space can visualize a future where such startups will move toward again rebundling services.

Root Inc., the parent company of Root Insurance, launched its initial public offering and is looking at a valuation of as much as $6.34 billion.

Clover Health posted rising revenues and a narrower loss in its most recent financial results, published in advance of a planned public market debut.

Crunchbase News’ top picks of the news to stay current in the VC and startup world.

Source: https://news.crunchbase.com/news/briefing-10-21-20/

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Syte Sees $30M Series C For Product Discovery

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Online shopping has become the norm for most people in 2020, even coaxing traditional retail brands to up their presence to stay competitive. However, now that shoppers can’t see and touch products like they used to, e-commerce discovery has become a crucial element for customer acquisition and retention.

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Enter Syte, an Israel-based company that touts creating the world’s first product discovery platform that utilizes the senses, such as visual, text and voice, and then leverages visual artificial intelligence and next-generation personalization to create individualized and memorable customer experiences, Syte co-founder and CEO Ofer Fryman told Crunchbase News.

To execute on this, the company raised $30 million in Series C funding and an additional $10 million in debt. Viola Ventures led the round and was joined by LG Technology Ventures, La Maison, MizMaa Ventures and Kreos Capital, as well as existing investors Magma, Naver Corporation, Commerce Ventures, Storm Ventures, Axess Ventures, Remagine Media Ventures and KDS Media Fund.

This brings the company’s total fundraising to $71 million since its inception in 2015. That includes a $21.5 million Series B, also led by Viola, in 2019, according to Crunchbase data.

Fryman intends for the new funding to be put to work on product enhancements and geographic expansion. Syte already has an established customer base in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and will now focus expansion in the U.S. and Asia-Pacific.

Meanwhile, Syte has grown 22 percent quarter over quarter, as well as experienced a 38 percent expansion of its customer base since the beginning of 2020.

“Since we crossed $1 million annual recurring revenue, we have been tripling revenue while also becoming more efficient,” Fryman said. “We can accelerate growth as well as build an amazing technology and solution for a business that needs it right now. We plan to grow further, and even though our SaaS metrics are excellent right now, our goal is to improve them.”

Anshul Agarwal, managing director at LG Technology Ventures, said Syte was an attractive investment due in part to its unique technology.

“They have a deep-learning system and have created a new category, product discovery that will enable online shopping in a way we never had the ability to do before,” Agarwal said. “The product market fit was also unique. We believe in the strong execution by the team and the rapid growth in SaaS. We looked at many different companies, and the SaaS metrics that Syte showed are the strongest we’ve seen in a while.”

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias

Venture investors and leaders in the fintech space can visualize a future where such startups will move toward again rebundling services.

Root Inc., the parent company of Root Insurance, launched its initial public offering and is looking at a valuation of as much as $6.34 billion.

Clover Health posted rising revenues and a narrower loss in its most recent financial results, published in advance of a planned public market debut.

Crunchbase News’ top picks of the news to stay current in the VC and startup world.

Source: https://news.crunchbase.com/news/syte-sees-30m-series-c-for-product-discovery/

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