Food security with the help of UAVs

Drones are Unmanned Aerial vehicles (UAVs) or quad copters that hover in the air with the help of tiny propellers. They are equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS), sensors and cameras. Drones are also called flying computers which use artificial intelligence. They can be used for livestock farming, Diagnostic and Precision Agriculture (DAPA).

 Precision Agriculture is all about applying inputs at the right time, right place and right amount focusing only on problematic areas. It is not possible to walk on large farms for assessment on foot and detect farm problems with their eyes. This technology is extremely fruitful for diagnosing inaccessible areas and undetectable characteristics.

As we all know, the world population is increasing but the cultivable land area is shrinking day by day. Malnutrition is also a huge problem. Food and nutrition security is a need of today. The main sources of food for human beings are plants and animals. Agriculture is a means to obtain plant food products while animal husbandry contributes to animal products.

Drudgery and the use of animal power are traditional methods of agriculture. In the 21st century we need new and scientific technology to reinvent agriculture. Drones can be used to transform both agriculture and livestock farming. This technology helps to optimize inputs, labour, time, and costs. Drones save human effort. Gone are the days of working hard. Smart and mechanized farming increases productivity to a great extent. It is a time to be smart.

There is nothing a drone cannot do. It can be used for seeding, precise fertilization, irrigation, harvesting, pollination, diagnosing diseases, assessment of crop health, soil health detection, detection of plant height, plant counting, yield estimation, forewarning etc. We fly drones over our field. It takes multiple pictures of the field from a certain height. Sensors play a huge role in drones. Different sensors are available for different purposes. The multispectral high resolution images are then analyzed by the experts to diagnose problems. Certain equipment can be fit on drones that can help in seeding, irrigation, fertilization, cutting of mature plants etc. This technology can mechanize every step of farming eliminating human errors.  

Not only agriculture, this technology can be used in livestock farming  to detect sick animals, check pasture quality, keep an eye on animals etc. This helps in ensuring animal food security due to improved livestock farming.

 Drones that used to be dreaded due because of their use for military purposes are now considered a boon in food security. They can even be used for small and fragmented land as well as difficult geographical conditions and topography like in Nepal. They can be used in an easy way and it is very simple to process the data derived by drones. We can process their data in our laptops and mobiles. And the good news is that drones are very economical too.

Climate change is a problem of this day and age which impacts food security. Drones can reduce climate change issues by improving soil health. They can scan the ground and detect the parts of the land that are dry. They can detect the areas where a particular nutrient like nitrogen is lacking. When, excess nitrogen fertilizers are used in the soil, soil microbes change nitrogen into nitrous oxide. The emission of greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide is reduced due to the precise application of chemicals in the soil. Healthy soils are a great carbon sink which meansdrones are a boon to carbon sequestration. They can have a powerful impact on climate change all over the world.

There are many sensors that can be used in drones like RGB, ThermoMAP, and NIR RE (red-edge), multiSPEC 4C (multispectral), etc. New software is being developed day by day to enhance drones and their utility. The technology is getting better and better which is positive news for food security.

Drones are already popular in several countries like Israel, China etc. But, this technology is not yet popular in poor and developing countries. People are not even aware of them. But, this technology will definitely be used in every corner of the world in the future. We must promote the use of drones in agriculture and livestock farming. This has to be encouraged and put into practice. Productivity and increased output will be the result.  Slowly, modernization and mechanization will reinvent agriculture in all parts of the world to alleviate food crises.

The future is very bright. Drones have emerged as a miracle in the despair of food crises. There are several opportunities and soon, drones will be used by all the farmers of the world. A near future is here. 

This article was written by Aastha Pudasainee, an undergraduate student of Agriculture at the Himalayan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, Nepal. She can be reached via email at [email protected]

All opinions expressed belong solely to the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

02/08/2017 0:00


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