Smelling plant diseases: New technology identifies plant diseases remotely in the field

By identifying the chemical cocktails released by leaves, the newly developed technology can identify if a specific plant is diseased and if so, what the disease is (© Pexels)

Researchers at North Carolina State University have published an exciting study on a novel technology which allows farmers and extension workers to identify plant diseases remotely in the field using airborne chemical fingerprints. The newly developed handheld sensory device, which can be plugged into a smartphone, samples the airborne levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are released by plants from the leaves.

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Plant doctors share advice using WhatsApp and Facebook in Central America

by Erica Chernoh and Eduardo Hidalgo, CABI

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Discussion of symptoms and a diagnosis on the WhatsApp group for plant doctors in Honduras
Discussion of symptoms and a diagnosis on the WhatsApp group for plant doctors in Honduras


The software application WhatsApp is being used by plant doctors in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras to provide and receive plant diagnostic support. WhatsApp has proven to be popular in many countries, because it is a free communication tool for sending and receiving SMS messages. Continue reading

How Mobile Technology is Transforming Livestock Farming In Kenya

A fish farmer in Nigeria using a mobile phone to communicate to buyers in the capital © Reboot via Flickr (CC-BY-NC 2.0)
A fish farmer in Nigeria using a mobile phone to communicate to buyers in the capital © Reboot via Flickr (CC-BY-NC 2.0)

Farmers and vets across Africa are increasingly using mobile phones to issue alerts about potential pest and disease outbreaks. The recent introduction of mobile phones that use the open source Android operating system or the iPhone iOS operating system and include GPS and Google Maps have provided new opportunities for developing mobile phone applications, allowing communication between field workers and their project databases. ‘Smartphones’ offer computer like functionality and internet connectivity with built in Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers that give a detailed location reference.

Mobile phone applications can be installed on the phone to issue early warnings of pest and disease outbreaks. In Kenya, where three out of four people are reported to have a mobile phone, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has partnered with the Royal Veterinary College and local NGO VetAid to support pilot testing of a mobile phone application called EpiCollect, developed by a research team led by David Aanensen at Imperial College London. EpiCollect is a generic software developed for Android and iPhone which allows multiple data records to be entered and stored on a mobile phone and linked to a central web application that allows mapping, visualisation and analysis of data from a central database. The latitude, longitude and altitude of the current position of the user is returned from the GPS unit of the phone.

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Virtual farming becomes a reality

Screenshot of a farming app, image from TheAppera

The modern world seems to have an increasing fascination with virtual farming, as more and more of us are downloading applications like ‘FarmVille’ and ‘Zombie farm’. For farmers in Tanzania growing crops successfully is much more than a game, but they are now joining smartphone users to try to increase their yields and crop profitability.

The use of more sophisticated technology is not a new idea for many farmers (the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange is a good example of a successful pilot project), but there have recently been optimistic reports from a new project set up in Tanzania. Farmers provided with smartphones can use GPS modules and applications that support picture and video transmission to share their knowledge on local pests, diseases and treatments. This may then allow scientists to retrieve and record this information for further study, too.