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Raising awareness of agricultural UAVs in Africa

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A conference held recently in Uganda featured a session organised by CTA to raise awareness of drones in agriculture and the opportunities offered by this emerging technology to youth entrepreneurs in Africa.

Interest in agricultural unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), otherwise known as drones, was generated among conference participants in the sessions organised by Giacomo Rambaldi of CTA. The opportunities this technology offers to young African entrepreneurs and the services UAVs can provide were of particular interest to the participants.

At the Geo4Africa Summit 2017 held in Kampala, Uganda during 11-13 July, CTA was invited to organise a session on ‘Drones for surveying and agricultural advisory services: new frontiers for youth entrepreneurship in Africa’. CTA also supported the participation of two speakers from Tanzania and one from Rwanda, two of whom were women, along with a dozen people from CTA partner organisations in Uganda, the National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farm Enterprises (NUCAFE), IGARA Tea and the Environmental Surveys, Information, Planning and Policy Systems (ESIPPS), who have expressed interest in UAV services and geospatial tools and applications in general.

Outlining the benefits that UAVs can bring to precision agriculture for medium and large-scale agricultural enterprises and to clusters of smallholder farmers, Giacomo introduced the session whilst highlighting the new employment opportunities offered by the emerging technology for educated youth in rural areas. Participants then heard from David Rovira, Africa Regional Manager of senseFly, a well-known manufacturer of drones for agriculture based in Switzerland, before four young African entrepreneurs shared their experiences.

On reflecting on the session, Giacomo stated that he was particularly struck at the story from the Rwanda presenter, Teddy Segore of CharisUAS, which is the first company in the country to have a permit to use drones for agriculture. The company was set up by two 20-year-old entrepreneurs and now has six employees providing UAS services not only for crop mapping, monitoring and management but also for surveying and construction projects.

In Zanzibar, Tanzania, a young female student Khadija Abdulla Ali has been involved in a World Bank project, the Zanzibar Mapping Initiative, using UAVs to map the whole island for land use planning and conflict resolution. Fascinated with the technologies, Khadija plans to finish her bachelor degree in information technology and application management at the State University of Zanzibar and remain in the UAV sector.

Participants at the Geo4Africa summit reacted positively to the session on drones with IGARA Tea stating that they would find drones particularly useful for two specific purposes, including identifying patches of crop vacancies within tea gardens, and obtaining recommendations on nitrogen fertilisation; although this second priority could not be realised without extensive research.

A key issue reiterated during the UAV session was that there is currently no legal framework for importing and flying drones in Uganda and this is hindering the development of a UAV-based service industry. However, with the attendance of government representatives at the summit and sparking interest in the issue, ESIPSS is taking steps to collaborate with local ministries to explore how the problem could be resolved speedily. 

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