By Mwangi Mumero
Crop breeders and developers are now using a mobile phone application that can widely collect and analyse images of crops.
This digital imaging technology to select crops suitable for various ecological zones- boosting resilience to climate change as well as changing soil conditions.
Already, this technology has been introduced to farmers in Northern Tanzania and is expected to yield benefits for farmers across East Africa.
Digital phenotyping combines mass collection of photos from the field with rapid data analysis, powered by artificial intelligence (AI).
Modern AI algorithms can quickly, efficiently, and accurately classify and count objects in an image.
Researchers at the Alliance of Bioversity International and International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) has been collaborating with Mineral, an Alphabet company applying the latest breakthroughs in machine learning, artificial intelligence, and perception technology to make agriculture more sustainable.
Initial progress centered around a robotic rover outfitted with state-of-the-art circuitry and an arsenal of cameras that collect high-resolution images.
With this data, AI is being steadily trained to phenotype plants, for example, to count every flower on every plant within a field throughout the entire growing season, a task that would be impossible to do manually.
While these advanced technologies are being used by breeding programs in the Global North, these technologies are not accessible in the developing where agriculture, climate change, and poverty converge.
Therefore, development smartphone-deployable imaging technologies based on powerful AI that can be used in everyday phones, enabling breeders and farmers access this technology.
With the increased use of smartphones across the world, lowering costs, and increasing reach in developing countries, the application will help rural farmers acquire crop varieties that are suited to their ecological zones as well as resilient to changing climate.
“This technology holds promise to not only increase the accuracy of plant breeding but bring the breeding process from the research station onto farmers’ fields,” observed Dr. David Guerena, a researcher with the Alliance.
Developers feel that technology can impact greatly on climate change mitigation