Issue 4, Wednesday, August 1, 2018
- Helping farmers to make better decisions;
- Bringing basic farming automation to small hold farmers;
- Supporting healthy supply chains and market regulation;
- Improving farming technology to develop resilient and high-yielding varieties;
- Incentivising entrepreneurial activity across the sector, at the grass roots level.
Monthly Interview: David Hughes
Could you tell us a little bit about your background and interest in the use of data analytics in agriculture, and the future of sustainable agriculture more broadly?
What do you think are the biggest challenges that lie ahead?
We have found that the ability to train a machine to diagnose crop diseases depends on the close interaction with public funded scientists who are experts in those diseases. At least in our system, there is no AI without human intelligence. The challenge then is ensuring that those -public funded scientists see the value in the AI tool we are creating and work with us to create it. We are not building a tool to replace them but to amplify their expertise and spread it across the globe to regions they either cannot reach or only rarely get to.
How do you think that technology, and Artificial Intelligence, in particular, might facilitate solutions to these challenges?
We at PlantVillage think it is entirely possible to have an AI-assisted network of hundreds of millions of phones helping farmers diagnose problems and the international community to be continually updated on new threats that might affect food security. We believe that this is all a public good. We are fully committed to supporting the mission of governments in low income countries understand what threats are affecting their farmers and deliver the timely advice that is needed. We built our AI assistant to be as good as experts but also to work offline which is critical where no connections exist. And to allow public institutions to send the most relevant information on best practices. For Africa we do this in French, Swahili, Twi and English.
What are the key organizations that will enable achieving these goals?
We released our AI assistant, Nuru three weeks ago with the UN FAO and CGIAR (notably IITA). https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=plantvillage.nuru. These are the two prominent public bodies focused on food security globally. I will spend a year at UN FAO in Rome from next week which is a testament to how important I think these institutes are.
What are some notable projects or specific steps that are being taken today to enable universal access to food around the world?
The fundamental constraint is a lack of knowledge. Knowledge of what the problem is and knowledge of what the solution is. In the context of global climate change and on ongoing globalization, we can fully expect smallholder farmers around the world will be subject to more and more threats to their food supply. So, the knowledge delivery system has to be very dynamic and adaptive.
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