Small-scale farmers in Africa battle crop diseases with smartphones

A mobile app helps farmers diagnose crop diseases (Image: IITA)

Cassava brown streak disease is threatening crops across Africa. Fungal infection and bacterial diseases are destroying banana trees, while potato crops being hammered by blight in the continent. Recently, smartphones have emerged as the unlikely, but effective, tool for small-scale farmers to save their livelihood.

To stop these diseases from destroying their crops, farmers need to be able to properly identify the diseases in order to initiate the appropriate measures. Researchers from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Penn State have worked together on a project which developed a mobile application which employs artificial intelligence to accurately diagnose to accurately diagnose crop disease by snapping a photo of a plant leaf, according to a report from the Penn State news site.

A team under the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research ( CGIAR) Research Program on Roots, Tubers, and Bananas (RTB) developed the app to accurately. For the approximately 30 million farmers in East and Central Africa that face the threat of crop diseases, the revolutionary mobile app is a savior.

Smartphones are an ideal tool because the devices are becoming prevalent in Africa, according to James Legg of IITA. He leads the project with David Hughes, who is an associate professor of entomology and biology at Penn State.

He said even a basic smartphone with a camera can be able to use the free downloadable app. All the user needs to do is take a photo of leaf showing disease symptoms. The app does the rest of the work and provides an instant diagnosis. When used in conjunction with SMS service, it can send out alerts to thousands of farmers in a region to warn them of the presence of a crop disease.

Recently, the team received a US$100,000 grant as part of the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture “Inspire Challenges” program. The money will be used to expand the project to help more small-scale farmers.

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