New AI App Predicts Climate Change Stress for Farmers in Africa

Screenshot of Africa AI via plantvillage.psu.edu.

(CN) – In the wake of climate warming that threatens to destroy African farmers’ crops, a team of Penn State scientists on Monday unveiled a new artificial intelligence tool in a cellphone app that can predict crop growth and help protect vital food supplies from intensifying heat.

“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% of staple crops throughout the region. They also changed rainfall patterns across East Africa, which further affected the crops.”

The AI tool is being added to an already existing app called PlantVillage Nuru, a tool used in several African countries to diagnose crop diseases. The new tool uses data from a United Nations satellite that tracks a decade’s worth of information about water availability, along with weather forecasting, to determine crop productivity.

Using such data, the AI can provide farmers with information about drought tolerance of their crops and which crops may be best suited for their area. Additionally, the app gives advice about irrigation methods, flood mitigation and soil conservation that can help farmers make the best choices for their harvests.

While the tool is cellphone based, the scientists have also set up a website that can be used by farmers who may not have regular access to cell towers. The developers of the app said they hope to spread its use across the continent in order to protect vital food supplies.

“Our goal is to nudge behavioral changes that will help farmers prepare their farms to be climate ready,” Hughes said. “There are proactive behaviors, such as planting for increased crop diversity, promoting soil moisture conservation and engaging in water harvesting, that are known to increase resiliency.

“Our AI tool is in the early stages, but it will get better over time and with more training. We are releasing it now so we can kick-start the necessary collaboration we need to help African farmers adapt to climate change,” Hughes added. “As the African proverb says: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ Climate change means we must act together to help those most in need.”

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