Farm Management, Technological Advancement

Digital Assistant Stops Spread of Crop Diseases


Hi, I’m Nuru. I will help you inspect your plant.

Digital revolution in the farming business is changing how farmers in the world manage their crops. Gone are the days when you had to consult your local veterinary officer or the field officer for every slight problem in your farm.

In this era, all a farmer needs is a phone and in some cases, internet connection, and voila! Problems solved, questions answered, recommendations given, and on to the next project.

This is the case for farmers in Busia County, who are the pilot group sampling the digital Artificial Intelligence app known as Nuru.

Nuru which means light, is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) assistant that runs on any standard Android phone as a knowledge hub for crop health. The AI was developed by two biologists from Pennsylvania State University, to empower farmers from all over the world on how to increase yields by attaining access to expert level knowledge through their phones.

The AI is hosted on the PlantVillage app, which is funded by Huck Institutes of Life Sciences. Other organizations such as United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) and Moi University in Eldoret have come together to collaborate with the PlantVillage team, in an attempt to engage and integrate Kenyan youths into agricultural and farming communities by providing the necessary assistance farmers need to overcome attacks from pests and diseases that destroy harvests.

In the East African region, PlantVillage’s Nuru was first introduced in Tanzania as a pilot programme to gauge receivership from farmers. Following its success, it was launched in Kenya, specifically Busia County, to assist cassava farmers in 2019 and is expected to expand to other counties soon.

To get a diagnosis of what is destroying the plant, a farmer is required to directly place the camera lens of the phone on top of the leaf that is contaminated to scan for diseases. Nuru then shows whether there is a disease on the plant or not. If yes, it states the disease and gives recommendations on how to manage it.

Farmers who do not have access to smart phones or ran out of data bundles can equally get information by sending a short code message SMS to 20307 for experts to advice on their crops at a minimal cost and assured fast responses.

“To enhance food security and improve people’s livelihood, Nuru enables farming communities to access knowledge at the palm of their hands by reaching out to people who can help using a photo and through a moderated Q&A forum, dedicated to the goal of helping people grow their own food.” Said Dr. John Chelal, Nuru development team.

At this time, the app has over 1,000 downloads and positive reviews by users. Its growing popularity is an indicator of appreciation of digital technology among farmers.


Wanjiru Kiarie


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