Recognising the opportunities offered by the drone-based systems, in 2016 CTA partnered with leading private sector operators, and assisted African ICT start-ups in acquiring the capacity to deliver UAS services in the framework of this project known as 'Transforming Africa’s agriculture: Eyes in the sky, smart techs on the ground'.
Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) – or drone-based systems –have the potential to transform smallholder farming and help increase crop production. As a tool of precision agriculture, UAS provide farmers with real-time, actionable data on their land, crop and livestock to help maximise input efficiency, minimise environmental impacts, optimise produce quality, and minimise risks.
By embodying components like support to policy making, scientific research, proof of concept initiatives, capacity building, support to investment, enterprise development, networking, experience capitalisation & communication, this project has started transforming African agriculture into a high-tech industry, with decisions being based on real-time gathering and processing of data, productivity and yields. A total of 30 youth-led enterprises were selected across 17 countries via competitive processes to participate in the project, and their number is growing.
The project is implemented via a series of components:
- Capacity building focuses on drone piloting and their responsible use, data acquisition and processing. Special attention is paid to supporting enterprise and business development including marketing and strategic use of social media. Training workshops which took place in France, Ghana and Zambia are complemented with remote and on-site coaching.
- A cost-sharing approach has been adopted for the acquisition of equipment and software for data analysis and interpretation.
- On-field research activities have been launched in Benin, Burkina Faso and Rwanda to determine the costs-and benefits of the technology vis-a-vis smallholders growing the same crop in contiguous areas. In Uganda a study was conducted to assess whether loan applications complemented by UAS imagery and diagnostic maps would increase farmers’ creditworthiness.
Experience shows that exchange of experiences, networking, and effective communication are key ingredients for success. Hence the project runs digital platforms (e.g. www.uav4ag.org) where entrepreneurs regularly exchange, build alliances, share experiences, challenges and solutions. Face to face interactions are highly valued. In this context the project run experience capitalisation workshops in Uganda and Ghana (2018) and Rwanda (forthcoming) and supported the most successful entrepreneurs in presenting at high level events in both Africa and Europe.
The enterprises benefitting from CTA support, are in the process of formalising a pan-African consortium of digital entrepreneurs, known as ‘Africa Goes Digital’ which started providing services across the continent.
It is estimated that in 2019 at least 16,000 farmers will benefit from actionable advice provided by consortium members and that this will result in increased returns to investment. As of November 2018, a total of 58 institutions sought advice and inputs from consortium members, which in turn, recruited more than one hundred youth to meet a steadily increasing demand for digital services.
In terms of policy making, CTA supported the African Union’s appointed High Level African Panel on Emerging Technologies in identifying “drones for precision agriculture” as one of the most promising technologies for Africa’s development. In January 2018 the African Union Executive Council recommended that all member states harness the opportunities offered by drones for agriculture. A full report, Drones on the horizon: Transforming Africa’s Agriculture was launched at the Africa Innovation Summit in Kigali in June 2018. Consortium members co-authored the report and have since been advising national civil aviation authorities in developing national regulations for the responsible use of drones.