Agricultural digital technologies are transforming food systems and offering farmers new opportunities to improve their crop management, productivity, and income. Through “digital doctor” apps, farmers can now access important information in real time through their smartphones so they can make science-based decisions. These mobile apps can help farmers even in very remote areas maximize their irrigation schedules and identify pests and diseases.
Agricultural digital technologies are transforming food systems and offering farmers new opportunities to improve their crop management, productivity, and income. As such, the suite of available digital technologies— the Internet, mobile devices and smartphones, data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and digitally delivered services—are playing a pivotal and prominent role in modern-day and sustainable agriculture.
In India, where a vast majority of phone users do not use a landline, information and communication technology (ICT) tools help disseminate agricultural research outputs to farmer’s fields quickly and easily.
Mobile phones are transforming the agricultural landscape by democratizing access to information and technology, Michael Gomez Selvaraj, a digital agriculture scientist at Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, said in Nature India’s podcast on enabling precision agriculture through wireless technologies.
Farmers can now access important information in real-time at the touch of a button empowering them to make data-driven decisions and learn about precision agriculture, Dr. Selvaraj added. Mobile apps that utilize the machine and deep learning and AI can help farmers even in very remote areas maximize their irrigation schedules and identify pests and diseases using photos.
ICT tools also provide a feedback mechanism to researchers thus giving them a view of how innovations perform in the real world. This is very critical in fine-tuning technologies needed for a successful crop production system.
Digital technology tailored for Assam’s farmers
Rice Doctor-Assam is an Android mobile rice diagnostic tool developed by Assam Agricultural University with the technical support of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). It expedites accurate diagnosis and management solutions for problems associated with rice production specific to Assam’s geographical region.
The content of the mobile app is in Assamese to make it very accessible to farmers, extension agents, and stakeholders in rice-producing areas of the state. During its development, a survey showed nearly 80% of the respondents found it user-friendly and provided more technical information for the diagnosis and management of rice-related problems.
Launched in September 2022, Rice Doctor-Assam after being approved by a knowledge management committee of experts from different disciplines of rice crop management. The current version of the app can identify more than 60 problems related to pests, diseases, nutrient deficiency, and adverse environmental conditions.
Another interesting feature of the app is that farmers can share photographs of invasive insects, diseases, or other incidences that require identification or diagnosis with a technical team for additional support. The feature also helps the technical team to maintain and expand their database of pests or diseases in the rice fields of Assam.
Because most of the terminologies used in the app are informal and easy to understand, Rice Doctor-Assam was readily accepted by Assam farmers to use in their regular farm operations. It can also be used offline allowing farmers to use it from the field where there is little or no network connectivity. To date, the app has been downloaded and installed by more than 1000 farmers.
The large-scale dissemination of Rice Doctor-Assam was carried out through training programs across the state’s districts. A total of 1,300 participants, including farmers, dealers, extension functionaries, researchers, and scientists, were trained in using the app for rice crop management.
More awareness campaigns and training on the use of Rice Doctor Assam are planned so that more farming communities will have access to the recent scientific advances in rice pest management through it.
AI-powered digital crop diagnoses for Uttar Pradesh
Plantix is a free app that helps farmers and extension workers in various countries accurately identify and diagnose different problems with crops, such as rice, cotton, wheat, and chickpeas, within seconds.
The app enables its users to take pictures of affected crops and receive immediate solutions based on AI. Once a problem is identified, the app provides detailed information about the pest, disease, or nutrient deficiency and offers recommendations for their management.
Plantix also allows farmers to participate in community discussions where they can share their experiences, ask questions, and learn from others. This approach will encourage knowledge sharing among plant scientists and breeders, entomologists, pathologists, and the farming community.
The IRRI South Asia Regional Centre in Varanasi and the German-based Plantix Digital Agriculture are exploring future collaboration to develop a version of Plantix specifically for Uttar Pradesh to improve the rice pests, diseases, nutrient deficiencies diagnostic and management for rice farmers in the state.
Spreading eco-friendly scientific advancements through “digital doctors”
Rice Doctor-Assam and Plantix provide integrated pest management strategies to help minimize the impact of pests while reducing the use of harmful chemicals. The digital tools offer eco-friendly and sustainable solutions for pest control.
Moreover, the apps consider specific crop and geographical region and provides specific recommendations ensuring that the advice is tailored to the user’s situation. Farming communities utilizing these digital tools can also monitor the progress of their plants and track the effectiveness of their pest management efforts over time.