Tomato Farmers Reap Benefits of an App that Combats Tuta Absoluta

Tomato Farmers in Machakos County Kenya have benefited from a mobile Application (App) that monitors infestation of the destructive pest Tuta Absoluta. The App is named PeMOST, an acronym for Pest Monitoring and Surveillance in Tomatoes.

This innovation combines Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Geographic Information System (GIS) through remote sensing, a method commonly used to collect physical data from satellites and integrating it into the GIS. This makes it possible for the pest to be monitored and controlled.

Dr. Joseph Sang

PeMOST which is now available on the Google Play store was jointly developed by JKUAT’s Dr. Joseph Sang, Dean School of Biosystems and Environmental Engineering JKUAT, Dr. Hilda Manzi, Director Geospatial Research International (GRI), and Kathaana Vegetable Growers in Machakos County where PeMOST was successfully piloted between September to December 2023.

So far, according to Mark Mutua, a representative of 200 Kathaana farmers, use of the app has resulted in higher yields and income as a result of lower production costs because there is less pesticide overspray, which is an expensive endeavor.

During a roundtable discussion at JKUAT on February 7, 2024, invaluable ideas to scale up the PeMOST Tool were shared by various stakeholders including JKUAT’s faculty from the Department of Horticulture and Food Security (HFS), Ministry of Agriculture Livestock Development, Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) and African Technology Policy Studies (ATPS).

Dr. Hilda Manzi

ATPS is one of the donors of the project titled, Pest Occurrence Early Warning System and Diagnostic Tool Development using Geoinformation and Artificial Intelligence: A Case Study of Tomato Leaf Miner (Tuta Absoluta) in Machakos County, Kenya. – o

According to Dr. Manzi, a GIS expert and the Principal Investigator, PeMOST is an example of how Artificial Intelligence can revolutionize the Agriculture Industry in Kenya and beyond. It is also unique in that it can serve small-scale farmers as most digital solutions were for large-scale farms.

“AI has offered solutions in monitoring soil moisture using sentinel data for commercial farms, enabling predictions (using planting data, etc) monitoring crop health, monitoring terrestrial chlorophyll index for smallholder farms, crop identification capabilities, among others. PeMOST will utilize land surface temperatures and detect how the pest behaves under certain temperatures, explained, Dr. Manzi”

Tomato infested plant

The Co-Principal Investigator, Dr. Sang, said, despite the myriad of benefits presented by AI innovations, challenges include lack of enabling data, inadequate availability of expertise, technology and research, misuse of privacy, security, and ethical regulations, and low intensity of AI research.

Research shows that the seasonal production loss of tomato produce in Kenya due to the Tuta Absoluta is estimated at 114,000 tonnes translating to almost 60 million US dollars annually, thus necessitating solutions such as PeMOST.

The roundtable discussions are expected to lead to a policy brief that will translate to the formulation of a national policy to guide AI in agriculture. PeMOST app will gradually scale up to other challenges facing the tomato farmers.

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