Plant damage is, perhaps, the most dreaded situation by farmers. With plant diseases and insects damaging crops, it has become important to closely monitor crops to avoid excessive damage. However, the technologies available to do this, today, are way outside the budget of an average farmer. In their attempt to address this issue, Matteo Rinaldi and Zhenyun Qian from Northeastern University have received funds from the Bill and Mellinda Gates Foundation to design a low-cost detector mechanism that will use the chemical sensors to monitor the change in a plant’s health.
The sensors they propose are based on the fact that plants release certain organic compounds when they have been infested with a disease or by insects to warn the surrounding plants and inviting predatory animals to consume them. The sensors by Rinaldi and Qian will come into action upon such a chemical signal, thus warning the farmer. As the sensors do not need power supply until the chemical secretion by the plants occur, this is a highly cost effective low-power detection mechanism that can help farmers overcome one of the major problems affecting the agriculture industry today. As the device does not require a power supply until it receives the chemical signal, it can work till the battery’s natural life time, which could be even ten years.
Being one of the 2018 challenges of the Gates foundation, developing tools for pest and disease surveillance in low-income areas is one of the top priorities for global food production today. As Rinaldi notes, with a booming population, immediate measures to maximise yield from farms is a necessity.
N Malavika Mohan