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AI-powered app helps farmers in Bangladesh detect and manage pests

In southern Bangladesh, Alamgir spends his days cultivating peanuts to sell at the local market. But every season, new pests and diseases arise, threatening his crop. Thanks to a new app developed in collaboration with Virginia Tech researchers, though, Alamgir will soon be able to better identify threats to his farm plot and quickly address them.

The Integrated Pest Management Activity (IPMA), a program funded by the USAID Bangladesh Mission and housed at Virginia Tech's Center for International Research, Education, and Development (CIRED), is collaborating with the Bangladeshi software company Medina Tech Ltd. to develop Groundnut IPM, an integrated pest management app.

Peanuts, also known as groundnuts in Bangladesh, are an incredibly nutritious legume, providing a valuable source of income and sustenance for growers. Tens of thousands of tons of groundnut are produced annually in the South Asian country.

Currently in its piloting phase, the app was conceived because, following IPMA's training on integrated pest management (IPM) practices and technologies in Bangladesh, farmers would often ask for more information or more frequent training. Despite interest in applying IPM, farmers noted that some of the strategies were challenging to maintain due to a lack of information. Medina Tech and IPMA worked to bridge that gap — giving farmers access to IPM strategies at the touch of a button.

"It's essential we consider the obstacles that might stand in the way of farmers accessing the technologies that will help them produce food for their families and communities," said Muni Muniappan, director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management (IPM Innovation Lab), under which IPMA is an associate award. "The first step is ensuring the information is there."

Alamgir, a peanut farmer in Bangladesh, stands in his field among IPMA-recommended technologies such as pheromone traps (at right). Photo by Sara Hendery for Virginia Tech.

IPM is an ecological systems approach to managing agricultural pests. It combines biological, chemical, physical, and crop-specific management practices to grow healthy crops and minimize reliance on chemical pesticides. In Bangladesh and surrounding regions, excessive pesticide residues on crops can impede the international export of produce, and farmers have limited access to personal protective equipment that is crucial to wear when spraying. IPMA has been operating in Bangladesh since 2021, aiming to improve the availability, affordability, and adoption of environmentally sensitive pest management approaches, as well as enhance farmers' capabilities to apply such measures.

Enter the Groundnut IPM app.

When farmers open the app, they will have immediate access to an IPMA-developed package — a suite of IPM technologies that can be applied to managing groundnut crop threats. Such a package could include information such as how many pheromone traps to set or appropriate biopesticides to use. Farmers can choose from a range of options based on their specific conditions, needs, and resources.

The app integrates GPS, which not only provides the area's weather forecast but also helps specify some agricultural recommendations based on a farmer's location, such as appropriate fertilizer application.

The Groundnut IPM app is designed to help farmers access agricultural information to identify pests and diseases and then apply integrated pest management technology.

As one of its key features, the app utilizes artificial intelligence for real-time pest and disease detection. Farmers can simply take or upload a picture of a crop and the AI-powered image processing mechanism detects if the crop is afflicted by diseases or pests and, if so, provides the name of the threat and the appropriate IPM treatment to address it. In addition, the app offers a list of Bangladeshi vendors that supply the recommended IPM product.

"In essence, with this artificial intelligence feature, users can seamlessly navigate from detection to product purchase, ensuring they have all the necessary information at their fingertips to address crop issues effectively," said Medina Ali, founder of Medina Tech.

The app also shares videos delivering IPMA recommendations on how to carry out essential IPM techniques — for example, spraying biopesticides, selecting improved seeds, and establishing pheromone traps in the field. For farmers who cannot read, an audio version can be selected so that all information is read out loud. A direct calling and text option to a local agriculturalist can also be utilized for any specific user questions about IPM. Based entirely on the Bangladeshi language of Bengali, the app is free to all farmers.

In Bangladesh, two-thirds of rural workers are employed in the agricultural industry, playing a pivotal role in providing food for the nation's 170 million people. However, crop pests and diseases have a devastating effect on small-scale farms, which account for 85 percent of the farms in Bangladesh. Every year, a quarter of all crops are lost to pests despite farmers using an estimated 49,000 tons of pesticides. Improved access to agricultural solutions is essential for long-term on-farm sustainability.

IPMA is planning to pilot the app across Barisal and Faridpur, two south-central districts of Bangladesh, to 1,000 farmers during the upcoming cropping season. The program is currently developing a promotion plan around how to ensure the app reaches as many farmers as possible, including youth and women.

"Through its integrated pest management work, Virginia Tech has been addressing pest concerns of rural farmers and developing nations for three decades," said Tom Archibald, executive director of CIRED, part of Outreach and International Affairs. "This app innovation is a testament to Virginia Tech's deep and rich history in agricultural education. The potential impact this work could have on farmers' livelihoods and rural communities' access to nutrient-rich crops reverberates with the university's mission of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) and exemplifies the Virginia Tech Global Distinction priority, demonstrating our commitment to elevate the international prominence of the institution and strengthen our capacity to act as a force for positive change."


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