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FAO and DA initiate use of drones for disaster risk reduction in the agriculture sector

FAO and DA initiate use of drones for disaster risk reduction in the agriculture sector


Drones were launched to officially mark a joint undertaking by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Department of Agriculture (DA) to initiate the use of the 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.

As the country continues to increasingly experience the impacts of climate change, which in recent years have manifested in the form of more intense typhoons, flooding and drought, improved capacities to generate accurate and timely data are becoming more vital. Such information that can be gathered through drone missions, can support the preparation of early warning systems and farm-level advisories, which farmers and fisherfolk can use to make better-informed decisions in protecting their livelihoods. It will also contribute to the Government’s response planning activities.

“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,” Director 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. This initial exploration was made possible through the pioneering efforts of several DA units, specifically the Field Operations Service/Field Programs Operational Planning Division, Information and Communication Technology Service and DA Regional Field Offices in the Bicol and Davao regions.

“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. This initiative is part of a larger FAO-DA collaboration for disaster risk reduction in the agriculture sector, through which FAO also assisted DA in 2015 in formulating a national disaster risk reduction and management strategy for agriculture and fisheries.