By Dorcas Kabuya

The Zambia Agriculture Research Institute-ZARI- with financial support from The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has launched an application that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to diagnose crop pests and diseases.

The PlantVillage application is used for monitoring forecasting and mitigating of the effects of climate change on pests and diseases of maize, cassava and sweet potato in Zambia.

Speaking during the launch of the project dubbed, ‘Upscaling of the PlantVillage Application, Agriculture Permanent Secretary in charge of Technical Services, John Mulongoti, said the application will enhance the timely surveillance and control of plant pests and diseases which affect the major food crops in the country due to the effects of climate change.

Mr. Mulongoti said the free application will intensify the provision of the much needed extension and advisory services to build resilience and capacity of the smallholder farmers in practising climate smart agriculture (CSA).

“Climate change accounts for not less than 20 percent of the reported outbreaks of plant pests and diseases in many countries thereby threatening the production of major food crop in the country,” he hinted.

He explained that a total of about 150 million United States dollars was lost annually among cassava farmers due to Cassava Mosaic and Cassava Brown Streak Diseases.

Mr. Mulongoti added that the production of sweet potatoes is mostly affected by viral diseases that are transmitted by aphids and exchange of infected planting material.

He noted that the project is critical in assisting farmers in ensuring the early detection of potential threats for better management and control of plant pests and diseases with economic importance,”.

“The Ministry remains committed to supporting efforts aimed at strengthening the accuracy identification and sustainable management of Fall Armyworm (FAW) in maize and all cassava and sweet potato disease present in Zambia,” he reiterated.

The Permanent Secretary stated that government will continue to collaborate with partners who have modern ideas and innovations that may increase the potential to lower productivity especially amongst smallholders.

“The launch of the App supports government’s agenda of ensuring widespread access to quality and affordable extension services by the farming community,” said Mr. Mulongoti.

And ZARI Director, Dickson Nguni, says the project will help smallholder farmers adapt to climate change effects through promotion of various agricultural technologies.

Dr. Nguni indicated that the App will help smallholder farmers plan, manage pests and diseases thereby enhancing household food security.

Speaking when presenting the project overview and objectives, ZARI Senior Agricultural Research Officer, Mathias Tembo, who is also Project Principal Investigator disclosed that the project is expected to benefit about 10 thousand farmers in its first phase of implementation.

Mr. Tembo further revealed that USAID has injected about 100 million United States dollars into the project. – NAIS