Using artificial intelligence, scientists have created an easy-to-use tool to detect banana diseases and pests. With an average 90 percent success rate in detecting a pest or a disease, the tool can help farmers avoid millions of dollars in losses. Credit: CIAT
Artificial intelligence-powered tools are rapidly becoming more accessible, including for people in the more remote corners of the globe. This is good news for smallholder farmers, who can use handheld technologies to run their farms more efficiently, linking them to markets, extension workers, satellite images, and climate information. The technology is also becoming a first line of defense against crop diseases and pests that can potentially destroy their harvests.
A new smartphone tool developed for banana farmers scans plants for signs of five major diseases and one common pest. In testing in Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Benin, China, and Uganda, the tool provided a 90 percent successful detection rate. This work is a step towards creating a satellite-powered, globally connected network to control disease and pest outbreaks, say the researchers who developed the technology. The findings were published this week in the journal Plant Methods.
"Farmers around the world struggle to defend their crops from pests and diseases," said Michael Selvaraj, the lead author, who developed the tool with colleagues from Bioversity International in Africa. "There is very little data on banana pests and diseases for low-income countries, but an AI tool such as this one offers an opportunity to improve crop surveillance, fast-track control and mitigation efforts, and help farmers to prevent production losses."
Co-authors included researchers from India's Imayam Institute of Agriculture and Technology (IIAT), and Texas A&M University.
Bananas are the world's most popular fruit and with the global population set to reach 10 billion in 2050, pressure is mounting to produce sufficient food. Many countries will continue depending on international trade to ensure their food security. It is estimated that by 2050 developing countries' net imports of cereals will more than double from 135 million metric tonnes in 2008/09 to 300 million in 2050. An essential staple food for many families, bananas are a crucial source of nutrition and income.
However, pests and diseases—Xanthomanas wilt of banana, Fusarium wilt, black leaf streak (or Black sigatoka), to name a few—threaten to damage the fruit. And when a disease outbreak hits, the effects to smallholder livelihoods can be detrimental.
In the few instances in which losses to the Fusarium Tropical race 4 fungus have been estimated, they amounted to US$121 million in Indonesia, US$253.3 million in Taiwan, and US$14.1 million in Malaysia (Aquino, Bandoles and Lim, 2013). In Africa, where the fungus was first reported in 2013 in a plantation in northern Mozambique, the number of symptomatic plants rose to more than 570,000 in September 2015.