Eyes in the sky: How drones and satellites can transform African agriculture
This blog by Business Fights Poverty is on precision agriculture, in which micro-level data on e.g. stress, moisture and the presence of pests, is gathered by drones or satellites and used to enhance decision making on the farm. Precision agriculture with drones or satellites could help farmers to exactly know what each of the plants needs, from the amount of water to the amount of fertilizer, at any given moment. This could improve yields, reduce costs and increase profits.The primary obstacle for this is the absence of a sustainable funding model for smallholder farmers. However, when farmers are organized in a contract farming arrangement with a well-funded agribusiness, there is a private-sector actor that could finance the investment. A pilot project was conducted to demonstrate the business case for providing drone services to African farmers. This pilot project was with a company that works with smallholders in Uganda, to address its major constraints: while demand for quality seeds is rising rapidly in Uganda, the company’s difficulty in monitoring production by smallholders has limited output. Accurate data could increase efficiency and expand operations of the firm, and improve yields and reduce costs for the farmers. Results demonstrated the potential real-world impact of the the precision farming model. Drone-monitored farms were estimated to generate 100% more seed. Furthermore, while drone-generated data increased monitoring costs and fertilizer application, spending on pesticide was projected to decline by 60%, because its use could be more precisely calibrated. Moreover, it was projected that on individual farms, the annual returns would expand. More research needs to be done, since the use of drones can also greatly reduce the costs of designing agricultural water reservoirs and planning urban areas in East Africa. The use of drones for these services would also make it more affordable for agribusinesses to employ drones, because it would spread the cost of the machines across industries.
The case study on the drone initiative is available here.