Drones can save lives, provide hi-tech rural jobs, and ensure developing countries take a major step forward towards self-sufficiency in food production – but only if governments come up with enabling national regulations governing their use. That is the joint message from agriculture specialists CTA and agricultural drone pioneers Parrot-Airinov.

The CTA project, ‘Eyes in the Sky’ in partnership with Parrot supports the deployment of drones in agriculture. The technology is on display at the European Development Days in Brussels today.

Crop diagnostic or other types of location-specific and high-resolution data generated via drones provide farmers with real-time data on their land, crops and livestock, and actionable information to help maximise input efficiency, minimise environmental impacts, optimise produce quality, and minimise risks. Monitoring crop and livestock conditions by air also allows farmers to quickly find, or even anticipate, problems that would not become apparent using ground-level spot checks. And the establishment of rural advisory services based on drone technology could make a major contribution to solving another problem: attracting young people to remain in rural communities working in agriculture, rather than migrating to cities in search of employment.

“Only 28% of African countries have official regulations in place governing the use of drones and some are quite restrictive and disabling,” said Michael Hailu, Director CTA. “By moving now to enable better regulation of drone technologies, countries can remove some of the current barriers hindering more widespread use to support the transformation of the agricultural sector into a higher tech industry where decisions are taken based on real-time gathering and processing of data.”

“Imagine the excitement of being a rural drone operator and creating a whole new career structure as a drone pilot, data analyst or agronomic advisor. Those are the opportunities we are helping to create,” said Agathe Courteille, International Project Manager, Airinov. “We are seeing so much enthusiasm for new drone technologies already and are expecting this to rapidly increase over the coming years as knowledge, capacity and opportunity builds.”

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA) is a joint institution between the ACP Group of countries and the European Union, operating under the Cotonou Agreement between the two. CTA has more than 30 years’ experience advising and supporting governments in developing countries on the enhancement of agriculture in their economies, food security, youth employment and rural development. In line with the decision issued by the Executive Council of the African Union to harness these emerging technologies for development initiatives and in partnership with Parrot, CTA launched its ‘Eyes in the Sky’ project to provide real-world, practical help to get drones into African agriculture more quickly.

The governance of drones is a multi-sector, multi-stakeholder issue which must involve all relevant actors in decision-making.

“There are still very few licensed operators across the continent, in the position to deliver services in the agriculture sector and this is something CTA, together with Parrot and its subsidiary, Airinov, are trying to address through our Eyes in the Sky project, which is training and equipping business-oriented and sustainable African drone service providers, most run by young entrepreneurs in African countries where enabling legislation is in place,” said Giacomo Rambaldi at CTA.