There are apparently 56 countries and 4 territories around the world that are affected by landmines and explosive remnants of war that pose a structural barrier to development and economic growth. Civilians become casualties long after the conflict has ended. Clearing mined land is a dangerous and time consuming task.
There are various heavy machinery solutions to find and destroy mines with a success rates between 50 and 100%. The standard in humanitarian demining as set by the United Nations is 99.6%. This means only 4 in 1000 mines may remain undetected. That’s why any mechanized clearance is usually checked with manual labor. Usually it’s people with metal detectors and sometimes dogs are used.
The Belgian NGO Apopo trains rats to sniff out TNT. Rats have a great sense of smell, are intelligent and trainable and are too light to set off mines. They are locally available and easy to keep. Plus they are relatively simple to deploy to post-war countries such as Mozambique, Angola, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, where they help local communities to regain land and improve livelihoods.
In Morogoro, within the Sokoine Univeristy of Agriculture, African Giant Pouched rats are bred and trained by Apopo. The NGO also trains trainers and conducts research to constantly improve the technology.
Recently Apopo has also started to train rats to detect tuberculosis. They are analyzing samples from Morogoro and Dar es Salaam clinics and manage to identify positive samples where classical microscope detection by humans had failed.
The NGO’s success is impressive: close to 50,000 landmines were detected and over 8000 additional tuberculosis cases were identified (as of June 30, 2015).