Hack for Harvests : How drones and smartphones are helping Ugandan farmers save their crops from pests and diseases
On the sidelines of the International Symposium on Agricultural Innovation for Family Farming, FAO also hosted the Digital Innovation Youth Entrepreneurship Workshop which saw young entrepreneurs who won the #HackAgainstHunger/Africa participating.
Below we share one of the innovation stories entitled “How drones and smartphones are helping Ugandan farmers save their crops from pests and diseases’
Known as the “pearl of Africa”, the Republic of Uganda’s fertile soils and favourable climate conditions have contributed to the country’s success in agriculture - a sector that employs a whopping 80 percent of Ugandans. In recent years, the increase in pests and diseases that have devastated crop fields have threatened the livelihoods and food security of Ugandan farmers, who lose from 30 to 40 percent of their harvests to pests, diseases or to rudimentary handling, storage, processing and transportation.
As the threat to food security in the Elgon region in Uganda became more serious in 2016, it prompted the Government to look at early warning systems in the region and for the whole country, recognising that farmers struggled to both identify pests and diseases and know how to treat them.
Using smartphones and drones that work in tandem both offline and online, with built-in machine learning for image recognition, large fields can be mapped out to identify affected areas. Depending on the pest or disease, the service would recommend sustainable pesticides to farmers ensuring that the solution is environmentally sound and maintains the nutritional integrity of crops. By tracking incidences of pests and diseases, the service could also alert neighbouring farmers of the dangers and suggest ways for them to manage the risks and contain further infestation. The service also includes a platform to connect the farmer and the buyer and the transparency ensures fair prices and accurate origin of produce.
The service called Fapp was the fruit of Hansu Mobile Innovations - a startup team of three young Ugandan developers from a farming community in Mbale in the Eastern region of Uganda. In development since April 2018, the fapp was first piloted in neighbouring fields in the summer of 2018 to hone the features of the service to the real needs of the farmers.
The innovation had to overcome a number of constraints, some of which are still ongoing. During its initial stages, the lack of funding and necessary equipment meant that developers had difficulty in collecting sufficient data required to properly train a machine-learning model on pattern recognition of pests or diseases. In order to make sure the model was accurate; the team needed an army of agronomists, pathologists and drones to provide the quantity of data needed. Finally and most importantly, many farmers did not have smartphones to avail of the service.
While the project is still in its initial stages, developers have begun a collaboration with the Islamic University in Uganda and will spearhead the rollout of the fapp thanks to its most recent working relationship with the Buginyanya Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute (BugiZARDI). It is envisaged that this fapp will become ubiquitous as Ugandan farmer’s continuous learning channel and digital support. .