“Tell me of phone, what is destroying my crops?’

The mob

In India the farmers have never had it easy, drought, poor harvests, low market prices and lack of modernization have taken their toll on the population of the country, about half of whom work in agriculture.

Each year, thousands of farmers take their own lives. So you can crop management applications help?

Voruganti Surendra is a farmer who cultivates paddy in one acre of arable land in the District of Guntur, Andhra Pradesh.

He and hundreds of his fellow farmers are using a new app that can recognize a growing number of pests and diseases and give advice on how to deal with them.

“It is very useful,” he says. “Farmers need”.

The application, called Plantix, was developed thousands of miles away, in Berlin, Germany, by a group of graduate students and scientists who joined together to help farmers fight the disease, the damage of pests and deficiency of nutrients in the crops.

“It was very important for us to understand what the farmers wanted,” says Charlotte Schumann, co-founder of the Mob (Progressive environmental And Agricultural Technologies), the company behind the app, “so we did a lot of bases in India.”

After months of crossing this vast country by train, conducting research in the rural areas, the team concluded that a diagnosis of the application with image recognition could help farmers the most, especially since the smartphone prices were falling to affordable levels.

“The smart phones that gave many of them access to the internet for the first time,” says ms. Schumann.

There are more than 500 farmers in Mr Surendra village of Karlapalem in Bapatla Mandal, the cultivation of rice, maize, cotton, banana, chili and a host of other crops.

While only 20 owners of their own smartphones, these few fortunate ones to share for his fellow farmers can take photos of their crop and upload the images to the application.

The farmer photographs of damaged crops, and the application identifies the likelihood of pests or diseases through the application of machine learning to its ever-growing database of images.

Not only can Plantix recognize a wide range of crop diseases, such as the potassium deficiency in a tomato plant, a wheat rust, or nutrient deficiency in a banana plant, but is also able to analyze the results, draw conclusions and offer advice.

The mob

These capabilities are based on deep neural networks or DNNs, which processes the information in a way similar to the way biological nervous systems operate.

“Works a bit like the human brain,” says Peat’s chief executive, Simone Strey.

Initially, or if the recognition software, the image is confused, pathologists and other experts will provide information about what the application is looking at.

“Obviously, the backup needs of some of the human expert,” says ms. Strey.

The application had to be multi-lingual, because “the farmers often use different names for the diseases of crops that are used by scientists,” she says.

“And if the farmers do not know the scientific name, you will not be able to find solutions on-line.”

It is currently available in Hindi, Telugu and English in India, and in five other languages for use in other countries.

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But the Mob is not the only company developing smart phone apps to help farmers.

In Africa, for example, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research – a body dedicated to food safety, has just won $ 100,000 (£76,000) prize to expand their research, and bring a similar app to the farmers across the continent.

David Hughes of the pennsylvania State university, who co-directs the project, describes it as “transformative” and says it “can be amplified by 100 times more than what we have achieved until now.”

In fact, the number of digital assistants that can fit in the pockets of those that has grown dramatically in recent years.

They include fertilizer company Yara’s ImageIT of the application, which uses pictures to measure nitrogen uptake in a crop and to provide recommendations to farmers.

The university of Missouri’s ID Weeds app helps farmers identify unwanted plants. And John Deere GrainTruckPlus app will help with the grain harvest and storage logistics of the fleet.

Then there is PotashCorp’s return on investment calculator, call eKonomics, and AgVault 2.0 Mobile Sentera of the application, that controls the drones, that can systematically film whole fields autonomously and feed back the footage for analysis.

Yara

“Technological innovations play a very important role,” says Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Indian Minister of Food Processing Industries, in the reduction of waste, improvement of the hygiene, creation of jobs, and address the “farmers “distress”.

Krishna Kumar, ceo, CropIn Technology, data-driven culture of the company, believes that “agricultural” start-ups “[is] to innovate quickly and change every aspect of the industry.”

While such applications are of practical utility to the farmers now, is that the data they collect, which is potentially more useful in the long term, argues that the Peat Ms Strey.

“Each farmer represents a data point, and is the set of data that is valuable. Research on this scale in this field has not been done before by any global organization to the research.”

This is the reason why farmers don’t usually have to pay to make use of such applications.

“If you want to collect data, is not to make users pay,” says Ms Strey.More Technology of Business

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The peat of the database currently contains approximately 1.5 million images for 100,000 a year ago, with 80% of its 300,000 to 400,000 users today in India.

Geo-tagging, offers a vision in which plants are grown where, and whether or not they are healthy. The applications, you can record the time, too, and build up a picture of the weather conditions.

Such knowledge is valuable not only for the farmers themselves, but also to the producers of fertilizers or pesticides, to the food industry that wants to origin of the crops, and to the governments concerned in order to see the bigger picture in their countries.

As such, the challenge, according to CropIn Technology Mr. Kumar, is not simply to collect data, but to “make sense of it and present it as useful information for agro-business”.Follow the Business Technology editor Matthew Wall at Twitter and Facebook
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