Cotton growing on a farmShutterstock 508062640

Pakistan’s major economic crop is cotton and 1.3 million farmers grow it on 6 million acres. The textile sector employs 40% of the country’s manufacturing sector jobs and accounts for 70% of its foreign exchange earnings.
However, climate change has had a severe effect on Pakistan’s cotton production in recent years, with around two-thirds of its crop production being lost. This in turn has placed millions of jobs, especially for women, under threat.
The major issues are poor yield due to pests and disease attacks, water availability, and increasing costs. On top of that, the country has lost almost 50% of its cotton crop due to a combination of heat, drought and floods in 2022.
A major cost to farmers is buying chemicals to control pests and diseases.
To try to address that, the University of Plymouth’s Research and Development Solutions Fund is enabling a move towards sustainable cotton production using artificial intelligence applications.
The University of Plymouth and SAWIE are leading this collaborative project along with cooperation from SAWIE Pakistan and MNS University of Agriculture Multan.
The project aims to develop machine learning and AI for early disease detection of major cotton disease, especially cotton leaf curl disease.
Cotton production is dominated by smallholders who own less than one acre and rely on the female workforce to sow and pick the cotton.
SAWIE Agronomist Mr Usama Rasheed inspecting cotton field in Vehari district in Pakistan
SAWIE agronomist Mr Usama Rasheed inspecting cotton field in Vehari district in Pakistan
A short study funded by the British Council, as part of the Texonomy project, has given the team the foundation to develop vision-based techniques for crop disease identification. There is a lack of real-time advisory to guide farmers about the health of the cotton crops.
Ms Nosheen Ramzan, co-founder of SAWIE, said:
“This support from the University of Plymouth will help develop an intelligent monitoring system that will benefit millions of cotton farmers. It will also address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, improve income, end poverty, and address the climate crisis.
"This will help improve SAWIE’s crop advisory services and reduce the amount of chemicals that are sprayed, which will cut down costs while improving crops.”
Dr Asiya Khan, Associate Professor of Multimedia Communication and Intelligent Control at the University of Plymouth, said: 
“Textiles play an important role in daily life from shelter to sofa cushions and kitchen towels. This research project will help to reduce the use of chemicals, which are affecting both the smallholder farmers and biodiversity.”
Dr Salman Qadri, Associate Professor (Computer Science) MNS University of Agriculture Multan, said:
“We are excited to work with research partners from the University of Plymouth and SAWIE as an industry partner to develop a next generation of early disease detection techniques using computer vision to help produce sustainable cotton in Pakistan.”
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