2019 Wrap-Up & 2020 Expectations

Posted on January 2, 2020 by PlantVillage

Happy New Year PlantVillage community! While 2019 is over and 2020 has begun, whether we were ready or not, there is plenty to reminisce about over the past year. Below is a brief highlight of the major events that occurred at PlantVillage during 2019. 

  • Dream Team in Busia, Kenya

What started as a concept idea in June by Dr. John Chelal, plant pathologist lecturer at Moi University and PlantVillage’s project director, led to a full team deployment in August. The PlantVillage dream team, composed of 11 Moi University graduates, has been located in Busia, Kenya for the past 5 months, meeting with farmers and engaging in the communities while spreading knowledge. We have mapped over 10,000 fields. To learn more about their accomplishments and experiences, go check out the other blogs written by them! The Dream Team blogs will begin again starting in January 2020.

  • United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization Partnership 

One of the more important activities that occurred throughout this year was David Hughes’s fellowship at FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy. David’s fellowship was from August 2018 - August 2019 but a year is not long enough and so his fellowship has been extended for another year. http://www.fao.org/3/ca7353en/ca7353en.pdf

    • FAMEWS 

Our collaboration with the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (UN FAO) on a critical invasive species, Fall armyworm, led to the production of the Fall Armyworm Monitoring and Early Warning System (FAMEWS) application (http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/1106850/icode/). It is being used in over 70 countries across Africa and Asia in an effort to stop its spread and save maize yields. Our lead AI engineer, Peter McCloskey, attended a conference led by the UN in Bangkok where we received commitments from every country in Asia to use FAMEWS as their primary monitoring/early warning system. 

    • UNdergrads

With David arriving back in State College, sharing his time between Penn State and FAO, our lab has started up our undergraduate program again. This semester we had 14 UNdergraduates mapping fields across 24 countries in Africa. The purpose of this was to provide location coordinates to pull evapotranspiration, biomass and precipitation data from FAO’s WaPOR tool (https://wapor.apps.fao.org/home/WAPOR_2/1). Credit for the mapping work goes to Chanpreet Singh, Anastasia Vopelius, Yimu Pan, Zhile Yu, Harsh Gupta, Seohyeon Rebecca Park, Manik Mukherjee, Jacob Grande, Edward Amoah, Yu Huan, Benson Wainaina, Heer Patel, Tanish Rastogi. Thank you for all of your hard work and good luck in all your future endeavors. 

  • Schmidt Futures

PlantVillage engaged with Schmidt Futures (https://schmidtfutures.com/) over the course of this year. We were gifted an extremely talented computer scientist from UC Berkley, Raya Kuo, from Schmidt Futures. Raya has helped PlantVillage align our goals and expectations and provided us with some needed organization.

  • Josephine Arisat - A Kenyan smallholder farmer

As you might remember from our blog ‘Lessons from a smallholder farmer: Josephine using AI to select clean cassava planting material’ (https://plantvillage.psu.edu/blogposts/41-lessons-from-a-smallholder-farmer-josephine-using-ai-to-select-clean-cassava-planting-material), Josephine used PlantVillage NURU to diagnose her cassava field with or without disease. The plants without disease were marked and used as seed for replanting and the ones with disease were harvested and burned. From those healthy cuttings, Josephine now has maintained a healthy cassava field and the time has come to harvest. From the harvest of one plant, there was a 600% increase in tuber yield from that one plant. Where she ended last year with 0.5 kg tuber/plant, she has increased to 3 kg/plant. We will share further results when we help her harvest the rest of her field over the holidays.



  • CGIAR $250K scale-up

In October, we traveled to Hyderabad, India for the CGIAR INSPIRE scale-up challenge with the potential to win 250,000 USD. Attached is our INSPIRE pitch: https://youtu.be/MQ4k9jd6UXE?t=3046. We were awarded the prize money and are now planning on adding more roots, tubers, and bananas to our disease detection application. https://bigdata.cgiar.org/inspire/inspire-challenge-2017/pest-and-disease-monitoring-by-using-artificial-intelligence/


  • NURU updates

There have been plenty of updates made to our application over the course of this year. New and improved disease detection models, connections to seed entrepreneurs, 

    • Climate WaPOR and Weather forecast ECMWF 

PlantVillage’s application has added new features to include weather updates and evapotranspiration values for each farm. 

    • My Farms 

Farmers now have the option to add the location of their farm to get real-time updated weather information and climate-smart advice related to their specific crop. 

    • More languages

As always, we are trying to increase the number of people we can spread knowledge to and one way to do that is to add more languages. We now have over 20 languages translated in the app. 

  • Graduate students & Post-docs 

We would like to thank the graduate students and postdocs that generously donate their time to help increase our bandwidth across Kenya. Without them, PlantVillage would not be where we are today. Thank you to Derek Morr,  Sanjana Gautam, and Medha Uppala.


2020 Expectations

Here we list our current plans for 2020 so our community can stay involved and know when to look for new blogs or check our twitter!

  • Dream Team Expansion

Our Busia Dream Team has been such a success that we are working on plans to expand. We are going to take our current Dream Team pairs and give them their own teams to work within various counties across Kenya. The goal is to reach across all of Kenya however there are some challenges. One of the challenges is that we don’t have the same lead farmer network connections from Self-Help Africa in other counties. We will have to work with local governments, extension agents and current existing groups in these new communities.

  • WAVE 

We will be working more closely with WAVE this year as they received second-round funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. At the end of December, we were able to bring on another postdoc, Serge who will be leading our responsibilities to WAVE this year.  http://wave-edu.org/index.php 

  • Global Potato Conclave, January 2020

Peter McCloskey and Annalyse Kehs will be traveling to Gujarat, India at the end of January to represent PlantVillage at the Global Potato Conclave. If you will be there and want to connect, reach out! At the end of the trip, we will engage with our collaborators at ICAR - Central Potato Research Institute.  http://gpc2020.in/themes.html

  • SMS Program

We are starting an SMS program in Kenya with hopes of reaching farmers without access to a smartphone. The SMS program is free for farmers to text and ask questions about their crops. They can also opt-in for weekly weather updates and general climate-smart advice for their region. 

  • More Smartphones Still…

We are continuously chasing people and companies for old smartphones to donate to farmers in order to gain an extension agent in their pockets. We are only doubling down and increasing these efforts in 2020. 

  • Expand Full-time staff

We will be expanding our full-time staff by two members in 2020. Shawn Foreman is a recent graduate of Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology and has been on the project since June 2018. His primary responsibilities include dataset curation and preparation. Our second full-time member, Annalyse Kehs, will join in May upon graduation.


Thank you all for your continued support. Feel free to provide us with any feedback or suggestions! You can email David Hughes (dph14@psu.edu) or Annalyse Kehs (a.k.kehs@gmail.com). We wish you a happy and prosperous New Year!

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