Drones on the horizon: Transforming Africa’s Agriculture
The African Union, High Level Panel on Emerging Technologies (APET) and NEPAD have published a report entitled, Drones on the horizon: Transforming Africa’s Agriculture. The report explains how drones are a vital part of precision agriculture and how drones can be used to provide detailed and on-demand data that support decision making by farmers in Africa.
The publication of this report is the second high-level commitment by AU to the use of drones in agriculture across the continent. Earlier this year, the African Union’s Executive Council requested the AU and Member States to harness drones for agriculture. In the widely celebrated decision, the council stated;
“the Executive Council of the African Union (AU), requests the AU and Member States to harness drones for agriculture as one of three emerging technologies of relevance for African development”- Decision EX. CL/Dec. 986-1007 (XXXII),
Precision agriculture-drone nexus is seen as enhancing the socio-economic well-being of Africa and is likely to support African states in attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and specifically SDGs 1 and 2 (and correspondingly AU Agenda 2063 – The Africa We Want, aspirations 1 and 5.
Drones on the horizon: report summary
The report considers drone technology for precision agriculture as a potential game-changer for the African continent. The report addresses this subject in four themes
- Critical analysis of drones in precision agriculture – The report recognizes the numerous pilot studies and research around the drone’s implementation in Africa. In this section the report details different types of drones – which include the multirotor and fixed wing aircrafts. The most interesting aspects is the application of drones in such areas as (i) land mapping and surveying, (ii) land tenure and land use planning, (iii) cargo delivery, (iv) management of agricultural assets, (v) scientific research, and (vi) insurance and damage assessments. In order to achieve fill precision farming there is also a need to adopt other complementary technologies. The cited examples include the Global Positioning Systems and Internet of Things.
- Drone implementation in Africa – There has been a slow uptake of drones in Africa in general and the report premises that progress in adoption will depend on the demand (pull) for drone technology and the states overcoming the prevailing barriers in accessing this technology – such as cost, infrastructure, trained manpower, etc. According to the drones regulation database, about 26% of the African countries have UAV regulations in place. The report then details some specific implementation in African countries, for example for Tanzania land tenure (p.12), and UAV supporting small-scale farmers in Mozambique, support to agribusiness in Morocco and also in Wildlife monitoring and protection. Read chapter 3 of the report for a detailed use cases.
- Policy and regulatory issues – In most African countries, regulation of civilian airspace remains the responsibility of the relevant National Civil Aviation Authorities. The report offers UAS governance strategy which emphasizes that policies should focus on public privacy and safety, enforcing data exchange and communications and agreed methods for managing and mitigating risks. However, the situation in many countries is that if one attempts to obtain an import permit for a UAS service, they have to deal with a wide range of government bodies and even after that with no certainty they will get the permit to import. This is one example of lack of policy and regulation of UAS services. To see the status of regulation in African countries click here
- Challenges and Solutions – Challenges in implementing the UAV are classified into four categories: technological, economic, social, legal and regulatory. The report then details these in the specified categories. There are a number of opportunities for African countries to adopt drones in Agriculture. One example of a solution cited, is the strength of public-private partnerships (PPPs) since the drones in precision agriculture has been mostly been driven by drone manufacturers. Respective governments and players in the content can take advantage of these existing companies to pilot drone use in agriculture, a cited example is the (PPP) partnership of the Rwandan Government with Zipline.
Recommendations offered at national level
After a detailed and elaborate discussion not only of the status of drones in Africa but also of the opportunities, the report listed the following (p.28) recommendations:
- Assess the opportunity cost of UAV technology including external factors and balance it against expected outcomes such as food security, improved health and the potential for drones to make agriculture attractive to the youth.
- Ensure that stakeholders are engaged in all aspects related to the development of UAV technology so that potential resistance is understood and dealt with systematically.
- Conduct public awareness and capacity building around UASs and their civil applications to clearly distinguish between civil and military uses. This approach will thereby improve public acceptance. Safety, security and privacy concerns need to be addressed as part of this process.
- Address cost and technical barriers to the adoption of the technology through either subsidies, licensed SMEs or cooperatives, and build a supportive framework for drone governance and regulation to facilitate adoption (including licensing and registration).
- Encourage and support public-private partnerships for UAV technology uptake.
- Ensure that appropriate national UAV regulations are put in place. Suitable regulations should strike a balance between competing public security concerns on one hand and the need to encourage innovation, economic development and youth entrepreneurship, on the other. In this context, encourage National Civil Aviation Authorities to establish enabling regulatory frameworks for UAV technology to be deployed and up-scaled to serve precision agriculture.
- Allocate financial resources for research and development (cost & benefits) and capacity building to form critical mass in all aspects of drone technology – licensed pilots, scientists, regulators and relevant stakeholders.
- In the context of smallholder farmers, support crop intensification through stimulating the planting of the same crops simultaneously in contiguous areas to form larger holdings which could reap the benefits of UAV technology for precision agriculture.
To download and read the full report