For many farmers around the world, crop protection is an ever-evolving challenge. From disease, to insects, to local wildlife—all crops are vulnerable to external forces. As a result, the methods farmers use to protect crops are constantly being refined and optimized. A growing number of these innovations in crop protection technology are beginning to reach smallholder farmers in developing countries.

Farmers, researchers, and other leaders of modern agriculture are creating new and technically sophisticated solutions to help protect crops responsibly and effectively. Software, mobile computing, and data analytics are no longer the sole domain of Europe and North America—crop protection is becoming more technical and data-driven for smallholder farmers.

Texting Elephants

In many parts of Africa and Asia, elephants present an interesting challenge for farmers. These remarkable creatures are revered throughout the world for their size and majestic nature. But as one can imagine, any crops within their pathway are destined for damage. This puts farmers throughout these communities in a difficult situation.

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To help address this challenge, the Kenya National Wildlife Service created a text message alert system notifying farmers of nearby elephants. After placing tracking collars on select animals, this system notifies rangers when elephants venture close to a human settlement, farms included. This provides rangers with enough time to gently direct the elephants away—often by shining spotlights in their direction. Given their great intelligence, over time elephants learn where the boundaries have been drawn and change their roaming habits.

What makes this program so noteworthy is the way in which it continues to create more harmony between modern agriculture and local wildlife. Although only certain regions are home to elephants, every farmer must work to balance the needs of the harvest and the local ecosystem.

Digital Plant Doctors

When it comes to crop protection, having the right information at the right time is critically important. This is the case for all farmers, but for smallholders in developing nations, this can be particularly challenging.

In an effort to quickly and seamlessly share knowledge and best practices, farmers in the developing world are using mobile apps to support their crop protection. An organization named Plantwise has built a powerful platform to help facilitate this exchange of information amongst farmers and agronomists.

With only a smartphone or tablet, farmers in Africa, Asia, and South America can record pest and disease data, receive regional agronomic advice, and chat with knowledgeable experts. This has the potential to provide smallholders with a similar level of data and insights currently accessible to farmers in developed economies.

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In Ghana, during the 2016 outbreak of fall armyworm, these datasets helped produce the first evidence of this new and growing challenge. Data collected on the mobile apps allowed scientists to prove that for the first time, both species of armyworm had established in Africa. Without this critical insight, farmers in Ghana might have misidentified fall armyworm for another pest. 
Like any farmer, smallholders need good data to make crop protection both effective and efficient.

Diagnosing with Artificial Intelligence

Every day, over 500 million Africans look to cassava for nourishment. But this valuable and essential crop is also vulnerable to virus and disease. Because of these pathogens, smallholders in the Sub-Saharan region often expect to lose roughly 50% of their harvest.

Like any farmer, smallholders need good data to make crop protection both effective and efficient.
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Like any farmer, smallholders need good data to make crop protection both effective and efficient.

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To address this challenge, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture collaborated with others to build a smartphone app that spots the early signs of cassava disease. Using only a picture from a smartphone, the AI software can identify disease, pest damage, or a healthy plant. The faster farmers can diagnose a pest or disease, the quicker they can act to preserve their harvest and feed their communities.

When it comes crop protection, good data is key to building better tools.
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When it comes crop protection, good data is key to building better tools.

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Smarter Solutions For Smallholders

In the same spirit as these initiatives, The Climate Corporation, a subsidiary of Monsanto, is helping connect smallholder farmers in rural India with digital farming technology to support crop protection. Farmrise Mobile Farm Care is a mobile app delivering daily agronomic advice to smallholders. This network of Indian farmers receives location-specific insights that can support more informed crop protection practices. Given roughly 70% of smallholders have access to cell phones, this pilot program may prove to be a relevant model for other global regions.  

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Celebrating Innovation In Every Form

Smallholder farmers across the globe can benefit greatly from more reliable and accurate information on the challenges at hand. The sharing of best practices, agronomic tips, and technology is key to helping smallholders improve their crop protection methods.

Through various initiatives with nonprofits and local governments, Monsanto provided training to over 2.5 million smallholder farmers in 2017.
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Through various initiatives with nonprofits and local governments, Monsanto provided training to over 2.5 million smallholder farmers in 2017.

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Along with the community of modern agriculture, Monsanto is dedicated to the advancement of crop protection technology. The challenges farmers face are considerable and the needs of every region continue to evolve. But if we keep working together, across the industry and globe, modern agriculture can continue to protect the harvest, while conserving natural resources.