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New AI app predicts climate change stress for farmers in Africa

United States English

A new artificial intelligence (AI) tool available for free in a smartphone app can predict near-term crop productivity for farmers in Africa and may help them protect their staple crops—such as maize, cassava and beans—in the face of climate warming, according to Penn State researchers. The team presented the new tool—which work with their existing AI assistant, called "PlantVillage Nuru"—in the United Nations Climate Action Summit at the U.N. Headquarters in New York City.
"Hundreds of millions of African farmers are already suffering from the effects of climate change," said David Hughes, associate professor of entomology and biology. "For example, earlier this year, which has been the hottest year on record, Mozambique was hit with two cyclones, both among the strongest ever recorded in East Africa. They caused almost $1 billion in damages and destroyed nearly 80 percent of staple crops throughout the region. They also changed rainfall patterns across East Africa, which further affected the crops."

PlantVillage Nuru is an existing AI assistant that is being used across Africa to diagnose crop diseases. The researchers have rigorously tested the performance of their machine-learning models with locally sourced smartphones in the typical high light and temperature settings of an African farm. In these tests, the app was shown to be twice as good as human experts at making accurate diagnoses, and it increased the ability of farmers to discover problems on their own farms.