Drones role in Africa’s agricultural industry

January 2, 2017

Africa has the largest arable land than any other continent and as political and economic growth continues, technology is not being left behind. Agriculture industry employs more than half of African employed population and use technology has sent shockwaves to those working in the sector. One of those has been use of drones. As the African population continues to grow, agricultural authorities, particularly in Africa, are focused on increasing food production, developing technologies to help evaluate soil and crop health in order to produce more for less.Increasing and growing populations as well as a growing demand for energy and fresh water means agriculture is facing serious challenges around Africa. The likelihood of extreme weather events occurring more often also threatens food production, which is why remote data collection to evaluate soil and crop health has an important role to play in developing sustainable agriculture for Africa.In the past, people used to collect data over vast, remote areas but now thanks to drone technology, such work is conducted quickly and efficiently, relaying timely and repetitive information about crops spanning wide areas. That has seen thousands lose their jobs across the continent. The data collected is utilised in a variety of ways including for the early detection of diseases and pests. However, there is still work to be done in ensuring drones can cover vast areas to return more data without hefty operation costs and reliance upon the operator’s experience and skills like people used to do. The drones can also coordinate with autonomous mechanical weeders for treatment of crops, identifying and destroying weeds that threaten crops across Africa and the same is being applied in Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria.

In some parts of the continent, local scientists are working endlessly to demonstrate how drone research can be applied in farming.In one case am familiar with, a South African team last year demonstrated how farmers could use drone technology safely to do everything from inspecting water levels to tracking their sheep. One gets the idea that, although drones are currently limited to around about 10 kilometres due to battery capacity, as technology improves, they will be centre of agricultural activities in the continent that is still a net importer of food.In Kenya, a pilot project being undertaken, pastoralists interested in adopting drone technology on their properties are expected to identify what they wanted the drones to do and to consider the effect of the technology on wildlife and livestock and must determines their distance and the type of payload of drone is able to carry.Those going to be doing trough inspections for on a couple of thousand acres will get a fixed wing which has a general tendency to have a longer duration and operating range while those looking to monitor their kraal in their homestead, they will get rotary aircraft but whichever of the two, users are able to do detailed inspections which eliminates the human altogether. And that is where Africans have developed cold feet about drone technology in agri sector.More than half of farming is still subsistence and in my view, before drones can be fully adopted, there are a number of legislative challenges to overcome in order to effectively adapt the technology to the agricultural industry.Also technically, challenges like lack of GPS markers to get a drone to automatically do things without visual line of sight during operation is still a hurdle that will take time to solve.To this day, in African countries it is still illegal to fly a drone without permission from state organs and in order to get that approval, it takes ages. However, no matter the risks involved with adapting drone technology, Africa’s agriculture sector will have to adopt new methods to survive.

Contador Harrison