AI in practice - Pest control in Ecuador's banana cultivation
An article by Hillena Thoms
Drones as banana protectors
Although pest infestations are a well-known problem in banana production, they are increasing due to climate change-induced extreme weather events. It is feared that climate change will increase the severity of the disease. Many conventional methods of pest control are costly and require large amounts of chemical pesticides that contaminate soil and water.
This is where AI comes in: drones and a web platform help monitor different crops and detect pests and diseases in a timely and cost-effective manner. This allows the use of pesticides to be more precise and minimised.
The main challenge in this type of precision agriculture is the use and management of advanced technological tools, i.e. their availability and accessibility in the field.
The Agriculture 4.0 project, a collaboration of the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INIAP) and Global Programme "Sustainability and Value Creation in Agricultural Supply Chains", enables associations of smallholder farmers to access these technological innovations. The aim is to achieve maximum productivity with a minimum of agricultural inputs.
How exactly does the AI approach work?
The drones take photos of the plants about 30 metres above the ground. A web platform processes the images to identify diseased leaves based on symptoms such as yellowing. This makes the work that staff used to do on foot much more efficient: a single drone can cover up to 100 hectares per month. However, humans are not yet obsolete: the final assessment of whether there is actually an infestation and the plant should therefore be treated is still made by the technical staff.
The AI tool is also affordable and user-friendly for small farmers' associations. Through training, producers learn how to operate the drones and transfer the images to the platform, which in turn provides them with up-to-date information about their harvest.
In the future, the technology can be expanded, for example, by integrating hyperspectral cameras and thermal images to detect many different plant diseases. In addition, other areas of agriculture can also become more resilient through the use of AI. This is also the case for the cocoa sector, which has experienced drastic disease-related crop failures.
More exciting information about the project as well as other initiatives of GV AgriChains in the Ecuadorian banana sector can be found here: