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Drones: supporting precision agriculture in Africa

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The Cameroonian company Agribizz, a member of the UAV4Ag community, was selected to represent Cameroon in the project ‘Transforming Africa’s Agriculture: Eyes in the Sky, Smart Techs on the Ground’ commonly called ‘Eyes in the Sky’. Its Chief Executive Officer, Jasmin Choake, shares what the team learned from participating, as well as his opinion on the role that drones will play in the transformation of African agriculture.

In the majority of African countries, as in Cameroon, agriculture employs the majority of the active population. However, it is often faced with difficulties to which drones seem an increasingly powerful solution. By facilitating an information revolution, drones encourage the emergence of ever more efficient agricultural management systems which support precision agriculture.

Following the EX.CL/Dec.986-1007 (XXXII) ruling by the Executive Council of the African Union on 26th January 2018, recognising drones as a technology to enable agricultural transformation in Africa, the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) , via its community UAV4Ag, has fully understood the potential for this innovative technology. This undoubtedly led to them creating the programme Transforming Africa’s Agriculture: Eyes in the Sky, Smart Techs on the Ground, known as “Eyes in the Sky”, which has supported several established African drone operators to increase capacity and share purchase costs for drones and processing software.

Increased recognition for drones and an invaluable way to share experience

The "Eyes in the Sky" project was conducted in two phases. The first phase, held in Lusaka in Zambia, from 11th to 18th July 2018, was the most intense, as it covered more subjects and speakers. The working sessions were focused on using the Agisoft software, developing drone services, using social networks, and other business management tools. It was an invaluable experience, as it allowed each participant, whatever their background, to improve their knowledge and understanding of drones.

The second phase was held in Ghana, from 1st to 5th October 2018, in partnership with the drone manufacturing company Parrot and the Ghanaian Cape Coast University. It was a significant event as it allowed us to actually pilot Parrot drones (Bluegrass and Disco Pro-Ag). We conducted flight plans in both manual and automatic modes with assistance from our devices (telephones and tablets) linked to a skycontroller. We then collected data using the drones’ multispectral sensors. The software was used to create diagnostic maps created by processing the captured images. The second part of the final phase was the interpretation of the data in order to facilitate decision-making. Thanks to the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) we were able to measure the chlorophyll activity and the health of the vegetation on the farm where the training took place. Our various questions and concerns were addressed by the instructor, or in some cases by other participants. The discussions with other participants were extremely valuable.We also shared our experiences, information about our businesses, our points of view and also the problems we faced.

Using drones to optimise agricultural yields and reduce costs.

The "Eyes in the Sky" project has been extremely important in the development of Agribizz by allowing us to strengthen our portfolio of partners who are able to provide us with expertise. For drone services, we can now more easily conduct projects inspecting plantations, calculating surface areas and carrying out consultancy cartography work for the planning and development of farms.

Drones are extremely important for the modernisation of African agriculture, as they bring greater efficiency, precision and reliability at a much lower cost. Drones allow us to optimise agricultural yields as they significantly reduce costs linked to production. In general, farmers use fertilisers and crop protection products across their entire farm, although only certain specific areas really require the treatment. Drones allow us to identify the precise areas where intervention is required, therefore reducing the costs linked to agricultural inputs and labour. Spraying drones perfectly complement this process, as they are then able to apply the products with even greater precision.

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