Saturday, October 7, 2017

Crop scientists work on cassava diseases

As diseases affecting cassava plant are becoming prevalent in most parts in Tanzania. The government has taken drastic measures to curb with the escalating phenomenon. In addition to these effective controlling measures in place, a team of scientists under the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Programme on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), has developed a revolutionary new mobile app that uses artificial intelligence to accurately diagnose crop diseases in the field. According to a statement issued by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) yesterday, farmers are often unable to properly identify these diseases, while researchers, plant health authorities and extension organizations lack the data to support them. “Smart phones are becoming more and more common in rural Africa. Smallholders or 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!” explained Dr James Legg, a researcher at the IITA Tanzania office, who leads the project together with Dr David Hughes of Penn State.

The harvested cassava tubers

Cassava brown streak disease and cassava mosaic disease are a threat to the food and income security of over 30 mil lion 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. The team recently won a US100, 000 dollars grant as part of the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture Inspire Challenges at the Big Data in Agriculture Convention 2017 in Cali, Colombia on 21 September. Currently developed for cassava, the grant will allow researchers to expand the app for other root, tuber and banana crops that are critical sources of food, nutrition and income security for millions of people. “This prize is transformative. It allows us to expand across multiple sites in Africa and multiple crops that are critical for food security on the continent. We can amplify by 100 times what we have achieved so far,” said Dr David Hughes of Penn State.

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