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Eyes in the Sky: How Drones and Satellites can transform African Agriculture?

African agriculture is faced by many challenges and yet technology – especially satellite and drone-assisted mapping technologies are poised to improve decision making for farmers and governments.

However, since most farmers in Africa are smallholder farmers and mostly poor, what business models can be employed in collecting and processing key agricultural data?

As part of the Innovation in Outcome Measurement (IOM) initiative, which was a tow year program to develop and test cheaper, better, and faster ways of collecting agricultural data – TechnoServe conducted a pilot project in Uganda to demonstrate the business case for providing drone services to African farmers.

Additionally, these pilot projects assessed the capacity of drone service providers in adding value, efficiency, and accuracy to agricultural production and water management amongst other uses.

Using Drones to Bring More Precision to Agriculture

In the pilot in Uganda, farmers struggle with low agricultural productivity – they have low yields per hectare than other farmers elsewhere.

Some of the causes being, lack of inputs and mechanization and lack of insufficient information and training on advanced agricultural practices. IOM and TechnoServe case study regards “precision agriculture” as a possible solution for African agriculture.

Equator Seeds Limited (a leading seed company in Uganda with 30,000 smallholder farmers as contractors /’out-growers’) supplies seeds to farmers, yet it lacks a reliable method to monitor the production processes for its contracted farmers. The above mentioned IOM program uses drones to evaluate the production on these farms. Three questions guided this monitoring program;-

What are the benefits associated with drone assisted imaging and mapping services provided to Equator Seeds and their out-grower farmers?

What are the costs associated with the use of drone technology in the agribusiness-level agricultural outcome measurement?

What is the potential of drone technology to help inform decisions by agribusinesses to expand operations and consequently increase profits?

How Drone Technology Benefits Precision Agriculture

Known benefits of using drone services to drive precision agriculture are

  1. Farm Area Measurement and General Monitoring
  2. Yield Estimation
  3. Crop Health Management
  4. Disease and Pest Identification
  5. Early Warning

Meanwhile, in the above case, through drone flights and data analysis IOM experts assessed the benefits of drone services for Equator Seeds and found some benefits to the company and to the contracted farmers or out-growers.

IOM developed a statistical model to measure the cost-effectiveness of drone services and the results of the test flights to collect farm-level data showed a potential impact of the precision farming model. For example, drone monitored seeds were estimated to generate 100% more seed.

After a data analysis, IOM projected that on individual farms, annual returns could be expected to reach $1,800 for maize and bean seed production and $1,500 for producers of soy seed.

Based on these findings, Equator Seeds started providing drone services to 300 of its farmers.

Conclusion

This short case study shows that when employed properly and managed well drone services can usher in precision agriculture revolution in Africa.

TechnoServe found that the use of drones can reduce the farming infrastructure and inputs costs. However, this model was applied to contract farmers, a stronger partnership is essential if this model is to be replicated elsewhere.

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