By Jacky Achan

Cassava disease diagnosis is to improve in Uganda with the development of the Mobile Crop Surveillance project (mCROPS) disease recognition app (named the Whitefly app) which is in its final stages at Makerere University, College of Computing and Information Sciences under the Artificial Intelligence Lab.

Solomon Nsumba Software Developer mCROPS says the app aims to diagnose viral crop diseases in cassava crops.

“The whitefly app has already been tested by researchers at National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) and is set to boost cassava production,” he says.

Cassava originated from tropical America and was first introduced into Africa in the Congo basin by the Portuguese around 1558. Today, it is a dietary staple in much of tropical Africa including Uganda.

It is rich in carbohydrates making it the world’s third largest source of carbohydrates, has calcium, vitamins B and C, and essential minerals.

But there are challenges in cassava farming as a result of pests and disease attacks.

According to agricultural experts the capacity for diagnosing cassava diseases in Sub-Saharan Africa has been held back by hurdles that include poor infrastructure, a lack of trained personnel and networking among Africa’s few leading virologists.

Currently NaCRRI has to get professionals to go out to the farms, diagnose cassava disease and count white flies which takes so much time whereas the personnel is also not enough.

Anna Neuman an Undergraduate Student of Computer Science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – Boston Campus, USA who joined the team to contribute towards the app development explains farmers may have diseased crops but may not know what is wrong with them, which demands that they call up an expert to diagnose the crop.

“This could take even a week and by that time help comes the crops are already dead,” she says.

Neuman says with the Whitefly app cassava farmers can just take a picture of the Cassava leaves using the mobile phone camera and diagnosis.

“It just takes like a minute and you already know the disease and treatment options and you get to save the crop before the disease spreads to other crops saving time and money,”

She adds: “the Whitefly app will bring cost effectiveness in cassava production.”

According to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, out of over 228 million tons of cassava produced worldwide in 2007, Africa accounted for 52 per cent.

In Sub-Saharan Africa the crop is mainly grown for food by small-scale farmers who sell the surplus.

Neuman says the Whitefly app development championed by the Mobile Crop Surveillance project (mCROPS) of the will help researchers and farmers vastly improve cassava production.

This as the overall goal of the project is to improve the livelihoods of small-holder cassava farmers by enhancing crop yield through the application of the smart-phone enabled field based diagnosis of plant diseases using the Whitefly app.

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