University Of Manchester – School Of Electrical And Electronic Engineering
There is a significant yield gap for agricultural crops in developing countries, where pest and fungal disease can have a devastating impact on crop production and profitability, as well as adversely affected livelihoods. Such losses are often preventable, and usually occur as a result of uninformed decision making among smallholder farmers. It can be challenging to correctly identify the emergence and growth of a fungal pathogen in time to limit crop damage, given the diversity of diseases. Even the most experienced farmers are prone to incorrect diagnosis, which typically results in negative outcomes such as spraying pesticide where it is not needed, or spraying late in order to minimise yield loss. The relatively recent introduction of inexpensive smartphones to the developing market has provided a new framework within which to develop technologies which will increase farming trade information access and allow for improved management of the fungal and bacterial diseases that threaten to reduce future harvests. With the support of the EPSRC, the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering will work in partnership with Barefoot Lightning, a small Anglo-Indian company, to develop a low-cost sensor system for close proximity hyperspectral imaging on the early onset of crop diseases. The tool would function as a mobile attachment, scanning for disease signatures, such as spectral and spatial signals, and comparing the results against known values in order to construct and automated diagnosis. This research is closely linked with work carried out in collaboration with the University of Bonn, where researchers have successfully replicated results by replacing a high-cost spectrometer with low-cost narrow band emitters. The next phase of the project would involve initial trials in the field using a data mining version of the tool and building a database where disease signals can be stored, and this will continue to be updated as new signals are found. The same technology can be used to look for plant disorders such as nutrient deficiencies, and Barefoot Lightning will aim to create a high-value dataset relating crop-stress to hyperspectral data, which can be used by future researchers, agronomy companies, field extension workers, NGOs, and regional government bodies. The current pilot market is in India, where existing industrial infrastructure will help to facilitate such a project. However, the smartphone-based technology has the potential to impact global farming communities and food supply, and the e-Agri team are particularly interested in the possibility of introducing the technology to the growing community of home producers in the UK, as well as extending the sensors for use in plant virus control in Sub-Saharan African cassava farming.