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PEAT, a German IT firm has come out with a Mobile App, Plantix which detects pests and disease in the crops and recommends treatment accordingly. MOHD MUSTAQUIM reports
Chaitanya Gandhi, a farmer at Karmala village in Solapur district in Maharashtra clicks a photograph of his watermelon crop. The Plantix App downloaded in his mobile detects calcium deficiency and recommends adequate fertilisation. Following the recommendations, Chaitanya uses Calcium Nitrate and happy to see the changes on his crops.
He has recently downloaded Plantix App in his mobile which detects pests and disease in the plants and recommends treatments accordingly. He terms the App a ‘portable lab’. Soon after, a new symptom was detected in Chaitanya’s neighbour’s cucumber field. The App found that the crop was infected with Mottle Mosaic Virus which damages the horticulture crops worldwide.
The App was developed by Hanover, Germany based IT company, PEAT. After successfully serving 25,000 farmers in Germany, it has recently launched the customised services in Telugu language for Telangana farmers in India though available worldwide on Google Play Store in English. It has customised the App as per the trend of pests and disease with various crops grown in India.
Informing about the functioning of the App, Charlotte Schumann, Head - Knowledge Management at PEAT says, “The App is designed as an easily accessible plant disease guide for farmers and extension workers worldwide. The use is very intuitive; Farmers take as many pictures of the damage in the plant. It is quickly uploaded to Plantix’s servers and analysed by the software. When connected to the internet, the user gets a diagnosis within seconds.”
Over 50 diseases or damages can automatically be detected with an accuracy of over 90 percent. Besides, the user can browse through symptoms, triggers and chemical as well as biological treatments - all carefully prepared by experts. The App also offers information on preventive measures for the next season. This information is accessible, wherever the farmers are.
“It provides independent and tailor-made information on disease detection, as well as symptoms, triggers, control and preventive measures that help farmers to take decisions on their disease management,” says Alexander Kennepohl, Head - Plant Pathology at PEAT. “This way, crop shortfalls can be reduced, farmers save money on pesticides and protect the environment from the increasing pollution through agrochemicals, Kennepohl adds.
Free for small farmers
PEAT’s business model does not target small scale farmers - the smartphone application, Plantix is offered for free to them. The organisation monetises its services for big agricultural trade companies, to whom it offers specific tools customised to their needs. PEAT also has plans to develop technology in greenhouse and indoor farming surveillance cameras as well as precision farming machinery. Individual farmers who use PEAT’s services on small scale for their needs are not charged.
For Indian farmers
Plantix has been introduced to Indian farmers in August 2016. The roll out strategy targets different access points. On the one hand, a picture database is being constructed for the automated detection of plant diseases and pests that occur in India. On the other hand, the supplied content needs to be adapted to Indian farm management practices. To reach out to the Indian farmers, PEAT is working with International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and agriculture universities. ICRISAT sources have confirmed the signing of MoU.
Language and literacy barriers
Lots of decision support tools pass by the actual needs and communication habits of farmers and thus fail. PEAT’s success will be measured on the actual benefit of their tools. Thus, it endeavours in customer research. For this, the App will be available first in Telugu as services being started from Telangana. Later, it will be available on other vernacular languages.
“Beyond the literate translation, the company wants to develop non-textual options for communication - videos, icons, text-to-speech options. Local partners will support PEAT in finding the right path to interact with farmers and support them with customised information where it is needed most - on the fields,” Schumann says.
The App is shaped by an accessible design that makes it easy to use even for people who are only starting to use smartphones. It unites a wide range of expertise in the area of agroecology and IT, but also has social scientists with long time experience in knowledge management and farmer interaction.
“None of the existing farming Apps offers a comparable service. Existing Apps focus on market and weather data, but none addresses the issue of disease detection. Plantix has something existential to add to the available range of products,” Kennepohl says.
In order to address farmers via Apps, smartphone penetration as well as internet penetration is important. The problem is expected to be an issue of the past with public as well as private initiatives targeting a connected India. PEAT claims to support with real time information for a sustainable agriculture in the future.