New app to boost cassava disease control
A new mobile application has been developed that uses artificial intelligence to accurately diagnose crop diseases in the field, Tanzania’s Daily News reported on Saturday.
A team of scientists under the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Programme on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), has come up with the new technology that will entail the usage of Smartphones to detect crop diseases.
The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in a statement issued on Friday said farmers are often unable to properly identify these diseases, while researchers, plant health authorities and extension officers lack the data to support them.
“Extension officers with a basic smart phone with a camera will be able to download the app for free, fire it up, point it at a leaf with disease symptoms and get an instant diagnosis. That is truly revolutionary!” Dr James Legg, a researcher at the IITA Tanzania office, who leads the project together with Dr David Hughes of Penn State said.
Cassava brown streak disease and cassava mosaic disease are a threat to the food and income security of over 30 million farmers in East and Central Africa. Likewise, banana is threatened by fungal and bacterial diseases, including the devastating banana bunchy top virus, while late blight still plagues potato farmers.
The app will also provide the latest management advice for all major diseases and pests of root, tuber and banana crops, and pinpoint the location of the nearest agricultural extension support for farmers.
Painstaking field work using cameras, spectrophotometers and drones at cassava field sites in coastal Tanzania and on farms in Western Kenya generated more than 200,000 images of diseased crops to train artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms.
Using many of these images, Hughes, Legg and collaborators developed an AI algorithm that can automatically classify five cassava diseases, and by collaborating with Google, the team was able to develop their Smartphone app with Tensor flow.
It is currently being field-tested in Tanzania. Penn State has also developed a mobile spectrophotometer through a start-up called CROPTIX. Early results suggest it can accurately diagnose different viral diseases in the field, even if the plant looks healthy.
“The app employs AI in real time so the farmer can be an active participant in disease diagnosis and crop health management, leading to more yields for smallholder farmers. It is also revolutionary because our artificial intelligence is based on the world’s best human intelligence on African crops – the research scientists at CGIAR and RTB,” Dr Hughes added.
The team will deliver farmer tailored SMS alerts on crop diseases and pests to 350,000 Kenyan farmers by July 2018.