Drones expected to boost rice farming in South Africa

Posted on October 30, 2017 12:03 am

Drones use by African farmers means tasks such as longer require hours on physically exhausting trips up and down distant fields. Farming in the continent is being revolutionized by the use of drones which are doing everything from rounding up cattle to irrigating fields, checking for damaged crops and lost herds, and monitoring breeding patterns. One of the drone whose manufacturer your blogger knows, was recently flown over half a hectare of rice fields in South Africa to look for farm owner €œenemies, not the farmers killers as its currently happening in the country diseases€.With a GPS and two cameras, the drone is capable of detecting diseases that may pose a threat to rice plants. It is the first ever conducted in Kwa Zulu Natal in South Africa, the tryout was carried out by the farmer and drone manufacturer with the support of the private funding. The test will also be carried out in the western areas of the Free State province and Thabazimbi in Limpopo province.The farmer told your blogger in a communication exchange that the drones use to take aerial pictures or for area mapping purposes is no longer enough for farmers.But through this new model of drones, it will be possible to detect pests on crops that will ease farmers’€™ tasks and at the same time push more farmers to adopt the measure.They also invited agricultural experts from local universities to prepare for disease analysis and rice productivity prediction based on the data recorded by the drone.South Africa is not a major rice growing country and rice plants on average are ready to harvest in four months. As such, food drones are best used when the plants are two months old. That way the right treatment can be applied in the third month according to the analysis based on the visual image captured by the drone in Kwa Zulu Natal.It is very helpful for South African farmers to have early detection of crop pests, especially rice pests and the result of the tryout would be conveyed to the local farmers through a seminar in 2018.”It’s been very useful,” Mr Adriaan told your blogger, a third-generation farmer who has been using drone service from the manufacturer.”You can get a very clear picture of how the crop is performing. You can then try to lift the lower-performing crops to a higher level.”Aside from saving time, drones are helping Adriaan turn farming into an exact science and improving the quality and size of yields. He uses three drone flights to inspect and map crops and intends to conduct further flights before the end of 2017. Adriaan told your blogger the maps helped to show the health of different crops, which in turn allowed him to vary the type and amount of fertilizer and ultimately to produce more wheat and barley.”You can do a ground inspection, but you don’t get as good a grasp of the health differences of crops in different areas,” Adriaan said.He believe drones are set to overhaul farming in South Africa and across Africa and will become more common as the price drops and the technology improves.In the midst of growing food demand, it is unlikely that the South African agricultural sector will be able to provide sufficient food. Good news is that the effort to synthesize digital start-ups in agriculture has been made in several African countries. In 2015, some programmers including your blogger initiated a plan to discuss how a start-up and investors could benefit agriculture, which has now given birth widespread adoption of drones in farming across Africa.One country that has continued to develop its agricultural drones is South Africa. The government is currently trying to increase investment in the agricultural sector, which is able to employ half of country’s workforce. For South Africa, the role of an agricultural drone is crucial.

Based on the 2016 Agriculture Census, the South African agricultural industry is still dominated by the home industry although the number of agricultural companies dominates the market.This means that the majority of South African farmers are working on a small scale with undeveloped technology and limited access to education and information. If drones can work well in agriculture, they will not only grow new companies but also strengthen millions of small farmers in South Africa. Also South Africa has lost about thousands of farmers due farm murders that have seen more than 70 farmers killed in 2017 and also a lack of support and low profits.A few things need to be undertaken, starting with building awareness and providing knowledge about the needs of start-up farming.It is important for founders, investors and public officials to understand the necessities of agricultural start-ups.This is essential given the current drone trend, which is dominated by the service sector and sales. Another subject that requires attention is comprehensive policy support, ranging from licensing issues, access to capital and incentives. Literacy technology, particularly in IT for farmers, is very important, without it, they cannot use the services and software provided by drone companies.Local support is also crucial since they are dealing with farmers and the locus of agriculture. For example, cooperation between drones suppliers and local administrations to arrange village farmers to develop agricultural products and empower farmers. Without involving farmers and African governments, agricultural start-ups will only be a discourse at the urban level.The drones, which costs US$500 to assemble has a true-color camera and infrared one and is capable of capturing the details of rice leaves, stems and grains to detect pests.Apart from that, the drone has a glider-type sky walk with a 2300 millimeter wing span and is capable of flying up to 1,000 meters above sea level and cover an area above an hectare.Adriaan, owner of the paddy for the tryout, told your blogger the pests commonly found in his paddy were fake white pests, moth worms and aphids which attacked rice leaves, stems and grains. œWithout the help of drones, Adriaan would have to check them manually by naked eye. It’€™s very tiring,’€ added Adriaan. Your blogger can only hope the farmers in Africa would be willing to adopt food drones to help detect rice diseases. The biggest challenge that the farmers in the African region had to deal with is crop pests and disease attacks, which significantly influenced rice and other grains productivity. In some countries, farmers even experience a 80 percent harvest failure and in normal conditions could yield up to four tons of unhusked rice per hectare.In my view drones will become as common as tractors in the decade in Africa as they offer a big time and labour saving in doing the scouting operations.Instead of going in by foot, the farmer can be deploying the drone. It can collect images and automatically interpret where there are unhealthy areas in the paddock, or where there are weed outbreaks, and presenting that information in real time to the farmer.Africa’s biggest rural farming include rice, beef and veal, live cattle, wool, cotton, milk as well as crops such as wheat, barley and other grains. It is believed that only a small fraction, perhaps 2  per cent of the African farmers are currently using the technology, though many of these are owners of larger farms.But the use is likely to increase in coming decade with the introduction of new aviation rules which will make it easier for private farmers to fly drones on their properties.

 

Contador Harrison