A new smartphone app can diagnose cassava diseases

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cassava diagnose app

A team working with the IITA has developed a smartphone app that can recognize and accurately diagnose cassava diseases on the farm using Artificial intelligence technology.

Cassava is cultivated as a tuber crop in many African countries, over 90% of its production takes place in small farms by smallholder farmers who have little or no formal education which sometimes makes it difficult for them to properly identify diseases that affect this crop.  The vulnerability of Cassava to a broad range of pest and disease such as Cassava Mossaic which is the most severe and most wide spread poses a great threat to food security and income of the farmers.

To curb the spread of these pest and diseases, a team under the CGIAR Research program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) has developed an app that accurately identify and diagnose the disease on the farm. This technology will be combined with SMS services to send messages to thousands of rural farmers.

“Smartphones are becoming more and more common in rural Africa. Smallholders or extension officers with a basic smartphone 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!” explained Dr. James Legg of the International Institute of Topical Agriculture (IITA), who leads the project together with Dr. David Hughes of Penn State University.

In a video showing the demo of the app on a farm in Tanzania, the app was opened and camera pointed at the leaves of the crop infected. The app identifies the disease and also shows the extent of damage.

The diseases can sometimes be difficult to identify by just looking at the plant, samples can be sent to the laboratory but as explained in the video, there are not many laboratory available to carry out the testing and diagnosis.  The laboratory test can also be expensive posing as a challenge for smallholder farmers.

Pictures can be taken from the farm and sent to the expert for diagnosis, however, this new technology helps to diagnose the diseases instantly.

In addition to diagnosing, the app will also provide up to date management advice for major diseases and identify the nearest agricultural extension support for the farmers.

The app is presently in use on the field but a lot of work is still needs to be done to improve the accuracy. This diagnostic approach can also be extended to other crops in Africa with the results used to improve crop disease management.

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