App can spot crop diseases and warn the farmer
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[NAIROBI] A team of scientists has received US$100,000 grant to refine a mobile application (app) that uses artificial intelligence to diagnose crop diseases, and aims to help millions of African smallholders.
The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas team won the grant during big data conference in Colombia on 21 September as part of the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture Inspire Challenges.
The app, to be used against cassava brown streak disease and the cassava mosaic disease, is expected to be rolled out in 2018.
"...the most important value we will create will be through extension workers already helping farmers.
It accurately diagnoses diseases in the field and will combine mobile phone short message service (SMS) alerts to farmers in rural Africa.
David Hughes, associate professor of entomology and biology at US-based Penn State University, who leads the project together with James Legg, a plant virologist with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Tanzania, say the team needs to continue field-testing and improving its user-friendliness.
The app’s conception was in 2012 but got developed in June-September 2017 through about US$300,000 funding from Penn State University, Hughes told SciDev.Net last month (5 October) in an interview.
“We think the most important value we will create will be through [agricultural] extension workers already helping farmers, and most of whom do already own smartphones. It’s realistic to anticipate that [most] farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa will have smartphones capable of running the app within five to ten years.”
Legg adds that so far it distinguishes five major types of damage to cassava plants: three diseases and two types of pest damage.
Cassava virus diseases alone, explains Legg, cause losses of more than US$1 billion annually in Africa, and threaten food and income security of over 30 million farmers in East and Central Africa.
“The main target will be farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, we will be working with the global network of CGIAR, and this means that the app could equally be of value in other parts of the developing world, such as Latin America and Asia.”