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App for developing-world farmers attracts funds

Plantix, aimed at farmers in Africa and Asia, helps growers diagnose, combat plant ailments and pests

by Melody M. Bomgardner
November 27, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 47

This image shows a photo and results of a plant diagnosis from the Plantix app.
Credit: Plantix
Using the Plantix app, farmers can learn why plants, like this tomato, are not thriving.

An artificial intelligence platform that diagnoses plant diseases via a free Android app has attracted $7.3 million from investors.

The Plantix app was developed by Peat, a Berlin-based start-up. Peat spun off from Leibniz University in 2015 with the goal of tackling crop failure in places where farmers do not have the access to technology and expertise common in developed countries.

“In developing and emerging countries in particular, our digital solution can drastically reduce crop losses, minimize pesticide use, and increase overall yield,” Plantix CEO Simone Strey says in a statement.

Funding was led by Russia’s RTP Global, which invests in companies that deliver services via apps built on artificial intelligence.

According to the United Nations, 80% of farmland in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa is managed by smallholders who farm less than 10 hectares. Plantix specializes in crops grown in those regions—chilies, bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, millet, and peanuts—as well as commodity crops.

Farmers who see symptoms in plants, such as black spots on a leaf, take a photo with the app. Plantix returns the likely culprit disease, pest, or nutrient deficiency from its database of 15 million images. It proposes interventions, including biological controls, chemicals, and cultivation practices.

The app also provides real-time alerts, such as the location of fall armyworm in India, and lets growers access a community of farmers in their region to share tips.

Plantix makes its money by putting farmers’ images into machine learning software that it sells to companies like BASF for incorporation into their own crop management products.



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