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Philippine Government and FAO take to the sky with drones in disaster risk reduction efforts for the agriculture sector

23/03/2016 Pampanga, Philippines

In an effort to stay ahead of the negative impacts of climate change, floods and typhoons on its food security, the Philippine Department of Agriculture and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have launched drones to more accurately predict where agricultural damage will be worst and quickly assess damages when disasters strike.     

The drones were recently launched to officially mark a joint undertaking by FAO and the Department of Agriculture (DA) to initiate the use of this technology for disaster risk reduction in the agriculture sector.

“The adoption of modern technologies in agriculture, such as the use of drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), can significantly enhance risk and damage assessments, and revolutionize the way we prepare for and respond to disasters that affect the livelihoods of vulnerable farmers and fishers and the country’s food security,” said FAO Representative in the Philippines José Luis Fernández.

More accurate data for Asia-Pacific with eyes in the skies

As the Philippines and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region continue to experience the negative impacts of climate change, which in recent years have manifested in the form of more intense typhoons, flooding and drought, efforts to improve capacities to generate data in a more accurate and timely fashion is vital. FAO is working with its member countries across the region to improve systems of data collection and analysis.

With respect to disaster risk reduction, the deployment of drones can support governments’ response planning activities and the preparation of early warning systems and farm-level advisories, which farmers and fisher-folk can use to make better-informed decisions in protecting their livelihoods.

“With the use of a drone, a team of technical specialists can assess up to 600 hectares in one day, significantly accelerating the process of projecting the extent of damage that an incoming hazard may cause in agricultural areas, and quantifying actual damage after a disaster,” said Director Christopher Morales of the DA Field Operations Service.

In addition to assessments, data generated from drone flights will also be useful in the design of agricultural infrastructure support projects as well as environmental monitoring.

The FAO-DA initiative includes the use of drones equipped with photogrammetric and navigation equipment to allow rapid and reliable assessments. These will be operated by DA and FAO technical specialists, including agronomists, agricultural engineers, mapping and IT specialists and data science experts who are undergoing a three-week intensive course with lectures, simulation exercises, actual flying and mission planning. The training also covers principles of professional use through safe, lawful, and ethical means.

“This initiative is a pivotal development that is fully aligned with our national strategy for disaster risk reduction and management for agriculture,” Morales explained.

While the Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, it is also one of the most advanced in shifting from reactive emergency response to proactive risk reduction.

FAO and DA earlier tested the drone-based methodology through an earlier project funded by the European Commission Human Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO), which aimed to facilitate the consolidation of capacities for disaster risk reduction in agriculture in Southeast Asia.

“FAO is pursuing donor funding to expand the use of drones in agriculture disaster risk reduction. We also strongly encourage the Government to increase its investment in this cost-effective technology so that more regions of the country can be covered at the soonest possible time,” Fernández said.

FAO and the Department of Agriculture have also been formulating a comprehensive national disaster risk reduction and management strategy for agriculture and fisheries.

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