Artificial intelligence: A game-changer for agriculture in Africa

Published by:
Focus Region:
Middle East & North Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa
Focus Topic:
Information Technologies
Knowledge Management
Health & Diseases

App not only diagnoses plant pests and diseases but does it offline. This is a game-changer to farmers with limited or no connectivity in remote rural areas in Africa.


CGIAR-IITA plant health scientist James Legg was a recent guest on Plantopia, a podcast series to mark the International Year of Plant Health, and interviewed by Cornell University’s David Gadoury. Legg talked about a powerful tool that is putting information in farmers’ hands. This tool is an app, PlantVillage Nuru, which was developed in partnership with Penn State University and a private tech developer in India. “Nuru is like putting an extension officer in the hands of a farmer,” Legg said during the show.

This app has many advantages. Anyone with a smartphone can use it. All they need to do is to download it from Play Store and then follow the instructions for its use. What makes it a game-changer is not only its ability to diagnose plant pests and diseases but the fact that it works offline. This functionality is vital because most farmers in Africa live in remote rural areas with limited or no connectivity and access to data or extension officers.

Just like with COVID-19, testing is important in the detection of plant diseases as well. Nuru is an example of how artificial intelligence can be used to test and recognize symptoms of pest and disease damage in plants.

On the show, Legg explains how artificial intelligence works: “We recorded images of thousands of damaged cassava leaves showing symptoms of mosaic disease, brown streak, and green mite, as well healthy, undamaged leaves. A team from Penn State University ‘trained’ computers through machine learning to recognize the characteristics of these diseases. Armed with this information, a private company from India hired by Penn State developed the app.”

All a farmer needs to do is download the app, which requires access to the Internet, but after that, it can be used offline. This app is not only a game-changer, but it is also affordable and efficient.

To learn more about artificial intelligence and the importance and origins of cassava in Africa listen to the entire interview. Hint: cassava was introduced to Africa from Latin America in the 16th century.

Remember that the United Nations declared 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH). Plants are the source of the air we breathe and 80% of the food we eat. Healthy plants mean healthy human lives. IITA is a major player in the plant health research and delivery arena and is supporting IYPH 2020.