Education and Skills

This mobile app is using satellite imagery to help African farmers fight pests

A subsistence farmer inspects his crop at Siqikini location, outside Cofimvaba, Eastern Cape province, South Africa, March 18, 2018.  Picture taken March 18, 2018. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko - RC1453408DD0

A farmer inspects his crop in South Africa Image: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Jacob Banas
Junior Social Editor , Futurism
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Bird’s Eye View

Nothing is worse than a ruined crop when your farm is your livelihood.

Instead of scarecrows, a new pest control system uses satellites and computer models to warn farmers about potential pest problems. Farmers in sub-Saharan African nations such as Kenya, Ghana, and Zambia are already regularly using such a system, according the BBC — and soon, so could farmers in other parts of the world.

PRISE Winning Crops

The Pest Risk Information Service (PRISE), created by the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International development charity (CABI), combines temperature and weather data provided by satellites with computer models to predict when pest outbreaks are most likely to occur. Should the system predict any problems it sends farmers a mobile phone alert giving them time to take the appropriate preventive measures to protect their crops from infestations.

Image: CABI

The data is also fed to a network of on-the-ground “plant doctors” who assist farmers when pests or diseases threaten their crops. So far, the system has helped 18.3 million farmers in 34 countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas. On average, farms using the service have seen incomes and yields increased by 13 percent.

PRISE’s impact is certainly already, well… prize worthy, but CABI hopes to take the project even farther. Their goal is to see to it that farms using the PRISE system will be able to attain a 20 percent overall increase in both crop yield and income.

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Brighter Today, Brighter Tomorrow

Many farmers are completely dependent on the success of their crops and a poor harvest can have devastating consequences, including not being able to pay for the costs of education or medical needs.

As Walter Wafula, a maize farmer in Bungoma, Kenya, told the BBC, “Because of the increased income from my farm, my kids can now go to a better school and the life at home has improved because I can provide the basic needs for my family.”

Although insect monitoring systems have been deployed before, it’s the first time such a scheme has been deployed on a large scale. Before we turn to more complex farm-saving measures like bird-scaring lasers and complete automation, maybe a simple mobile alert could help farmers make the difference between a healthy crop and an empty table.

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Related topics:
Education and SkillsSustainable DevelopmentGeographies in Depth
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