AFRICA FARMERS TURNING TO THE USE OF DRONE TECHNOLOGY
By Paul Ndiho
An Ivorian Agriculture-technology company is introducing locally assembled drones to help farmers boost crop production. It’s part of an initiative across Africa to increase crop yields through the data-driven technology.
A World Bank study says agriculture is an essential driver of Ivory Coast’s economy, accounting for 22 percent of its Gross Domestic Product and more than 75 percent of its exports.
Palm tree farmer Emmanuel Adou looks on as engineers prep a drone at his farm in Sikensi, 80 kilometers Northwest of Ivory Coast’s commercial capital Abidjan.
Adou is among a growing number of farmers now using drone technology to help boost crop production.
For Adou, the days of back-breaking work at his plantation ended after he sought help from Investiv Group, an Ivorian company that specializes in precision agriculture.
“In the past, we would to physically irrigate the farm, but today, with this technology, we can irrigate the crops from above with the use of drones, as well as spraying fertilizers from above, that’s why I was very interested in this new technology, I wanted this company (Investiv Group) to work with us and help our workers,”
Precision agriculture incorporates technology like drones, sensors and GPS devices that allow farmers and researchers to monitor and optimize their crop growth – and assist in conserving resources such as soil and water.
Investiv Group uses drones to capture aerial imagery of crops and other physical features of farms. The data is then analyzed to identify the types of plants, the potential yield, and health, as well as whether pests or the weather have damaged the crops.
Investiv Group CEO, Aboubacar Karim, says farmers must embrace technology and innovation.
“When we talk about precision agriculture, it’s really about being able to identify and pinpoint the exact areas of the farm that may have issues. For example, based on data received from the drone, we can assess the health of the crops, or areas that need a boost in growth, and we compare and contrast to find out if there are issues around water irrigation or issues around crop fertility and so on,”
Cote d’Ivoire Drone is another company facilitating access to drones technology in the West African nation. Moroccan-born entrepreneur Maruna Jebbar, says Africa is ripe for innovation in the aerospace industry, although the technical skills gap remains a challenge.
“It was challenging for us at the beginning, but it has become easier over time. We can now assemble up to four drones a day, and if we have all the pieces here, we can put out four drones a day,”
Meanwhile, in landlocked Malawi, which suffers from periodic crop failures and is prone to flooding and is frequently in need of food and other aid. Limited road access makes it difficult to get needed help to its rural communities.
“We are understaffed that one extension worker is covering 3,000 farmers instead of 700 farmers. So, if we can have access to these modern technologies, definitely we can ease our work and we can be producing reports in relation to what is actually happening on the ground.”
Malawi’s government and various United Nations agencies are using the country’s drone testing corridor to analyze drone assessments of crop health in the region.
The data is cross-checked against a ground survey and then shared with farmers.