Artificial intelligence is helping farmers better protect the food they grow. And that could mean being able to reliably feed more people.
mCROPS, a diagnostic tool for remotely predicting and preventing disease in cassava crops, lets local farmers in Uganda use smartphones to see if their plants are sick. Cassava is a core food for some 800 million people around the globe, who eat the vegetable as a main carbohydrate in their diets.
Now, rather than waiting for government experts to physically visit their fields, Ugandan farmers can upload smartphone pictures of the crops, which are then analyzed with computer vision.
The program can then let farmers know if they have a small issue on their hands that can be resolved or, in a more extreme case, if they need to rip up the field. Likewise, the tool can be used to search across images for how the disease is spreading.
An ocean away, farms in the United States and Mexico are also benefiting from AI. Using technology developed by Tel Aviv-based agricultural technology company Prospera, tomato grower NatureSweet is keeping a better eye on its plants. The company puts cameras in the ceilings of its greenhouses that take pictures then analyzed by Prospera’s software for plants that may be sick or infested. This provides monitoring much more quickly than the previous manual method, where employees walked the greenhouses weekly to evaluate the plants.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to putting AI to work with crops. As the population continues to increase and climate change makes crop growth more complex, every tool that can increase yield and efficacy will be crucial in the decades ahead.