Indian farmers using smartphones to fight fast-moving crop killer

By Eric Marx. Reblogged from Ethical Corporation.

Plantix is a diagnostic app that uses image recognition software and AI. It is being used to halt the advance of the fall armyworm pest.

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An app that uses artificial intelligence to identify plant disease is being deployed in India as an early-warning system to stop the advance of a crop-destroying caterpillar that is having a devastating impact on maize crops in Africa.

Plantix, a diagnostics smartphone app developed by Berlin-based Progressive Environmental and Agricultural Technologies (PEAT), has used its geo-tagging software to create a live tracking map of verified cases of the fall armyworm in India, which was first discovered in a field of maize in Karnataka in May.

“Based on this we are sending push notifications to tens of thousands of our users through our Plantix app,” said Simone Strey, CEO of PEAT.

In addition to the image recognition feature, there is a community portal and crop guide that serves as a kind of digital extension service throughout the entire growing cycle.

Government officials and scientists say pesticides are largely ineffective against the fall armyworm, which has now been identified in 44 countries and arrived in Africa in 2016.

field_use_farmer_check_tomatoe_disease_credit_icrisat
A farmer checks for disease on tomato plants using the Plantix app. (Credit: ICRISAT)

Scientists say only improved farming techniques, such as planting hedgerows, can possibly boost production and attract predators to hunt the worms. In short, good management – in conjunction with a mass awareness-raising campaign – is required to limit the losses.

As previously reported in Ethical Corporation, Plantix is a mobile application that uses artificial intelligence and image recognition to identify diseases and then suggests to farmers measures they can take to protect a plant.

“We have been working in partnership with Plantix since 2016,” said Dr. Srikanth Rupavatharam, a scientist with International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad. “The armyworm live tracking tool enables us to monitor and focus on those states and districts that are infected most. This is crucial to fight the spread of this pest effectively in a country as huge as India, and help farmers receive effective advisories on the ground.”

CABI’s Roger Day said, “It is very valuable to have a live tracking system that is freely available for all stakeholders, but especially governments who co-ordinate the response to new invasions like fall armyworm. This is a logical next step of our ongoing co-operation.”

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The fall armyworm tracker helps scientists monitor the spread of the pest across India. (Credit: PEAT)

CABI estimated in September that improper management of the armyworm could cost 10 of Africa’s major maize-producing economies $2.2bn-$5.5bn per year in lost harvests. Though known primarily for attacking maize fields, the pest eats 186 plant species, including sorghum and soya beans. Each female moth can lay 1,000 to 1,500 eggs and moth populations can fly almost 100km per night.

Scientists at ICRISAT said there is a need for a joint global approach to combat the pest, which has continuted to spread despite a series of awareness-raising campaigns.

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