By Joshua Kato
Usually, when a crop disease is reported in a given area, experts from the National Crop Resources Research Institute in Namulonge take time to reach the reported location and carry out investigations.
In many cases, the farmers never get to know the disease that has attacked their crops for months.
However, Makerere University department of computer science has invented a simple technology that can be used to quickly report and identify areas that have been attacked by particular diseases. The system uses a smartphone that is equipped with a Global Positioning Device and connected to the internet.
At the moment, the emphasis has been put on cassava mosaic. However, according to John Quinn, a senior lecturer at the department of computing, the system can be adopted to identify other crop diseases that show open symptoms.
“Our team has recently proto-typed a survey system running on a smart-phone of at least $80 (about sh200,000), a smart-phone, which can take an image of a cassava leaf and automatically diagnose with high accuracy, whether that plant is affected by cassava mosaic,” explains Quinn.
This information including the latitude and longitude of the plant from the phone’s satellite positioning system is instantly uploaded to an online map.
“This provides much more rapid and effective feedback from a survey than was previously possible and significantly cuts the cost of running a crops survey,” Quinn said.
The ideal phone costs at least sh300,000 and is affordable to large scale Ugandan farmers. The phone is then installed with various programmes that help collect and store the data.
Quinn says they have been working with the National Crop Resources Research Institute, Namulonge to pilot the programme and it has been successful.
Ernest Mwebaze, a PhD student and member of the Development Research Group at the college of computing, who also took part in the research, says once adopted at the lowest levels, crop disease detection and control will be easier.
Mwebaze says the phones are ideal for district extension workers because they are in charge of surveying and identifying diseases.
“If we had the ability, we would have given out the phones to the key personnel but this is where the Government has got to come in and provide these phones to them. We shall work with the Government to connect them,” he said.