Drones for Inclusive Growth in Agriculture

With drones, smallholder farmers can use crop inputs more efficiently, reduce working time and minimize potential exposure to agrochemicals, as compared to the application with backpack sprayers. Drone solutions enable high-speed spraying and precision, optimizing the amount of crop inputs and reducing the water needed. BASF has been conducting first pilots, which have shown encouraging results, and has the goal to reach 8,000 farmers in Latin America within five years.

A drone is flying over a rice field in Ecuador. (c) Fernando Mora/BASF

Dr. Diana Moran

Dr. Diana Moran is Sustainability Manager at BASF Agricultural Solutions in Germany. She joined BASF in 2012, working as laboratory leader for crop protection application technology until 2015, when she moved into the field of sustainability in agriculture.

BASF Agricultural Solutions

„An Ecosystem that has been adapted according to the human activity of agriculture is called an Agroecosystem. Its management goes far beyond the planning of farming practices that lead to higher crop yield and animal production. Agronomists should ensure that all living and non-living organisms in the system interact coherently in the benefit of its preservation”. This is what my Natural Science Teacher told us in a career orientation session in 8th grade. To a 14 years-old teenager, who dreamt of helping the poor of her country, agronomy sounded like the most noble, complex, and decisive science to change the fate of smallholder farmers in El Salvador.

 

Back in El Salvador, the number 90 dominated the agricultural statistics: about 90 percent of all farms have a size of less than two “manzanas” (equivalent to 1.4 hectares) and about 90 percent of farmers in my country own only 28 percent of arable land, while 72 percent of the national farming surface was owned by 10 percent of the farmers. The number 90 therefore reflects the asymmetry of our agroecosystem.

 

Small-scale farmers face daily challenges that are often due to a lack of know-how about optimal cultivation practices, management of plant disease and pests as well as insufficient equipment. It is also often difficult for these farmers to assess the right time and dose to apply crop inputs. In many cases this leads to an overuse or underuse and in turn to a potential increase of pest and disease resistance. Sadly enough, misuse of crop inputs also represents a latent health risk to farmers and the environment.

 

This innovative application technology could replace one of the most physically demanding jobs and thereby could also motivate rural youth, with an affinity for digital technology, to engage in agriculture in developing countries.

 

If agronomists are dealing with a complex job, farmers and especially small-scaled farmers, have the biggest job on earth. With a national average education of 2 years and practically no formal education in the rural areas, smallholders are expected to increase the productivity of their farmland, the efficiency of agricultural inputs and to ensure the responsible use of crop protection products. Could the use of precision farming technology, like for example drones to spray crop inputs, be an innovative solution to these challenges?

 

Yes, it can! …if the technology is accompanied with appropriate social interventions that ensure its adoption and if it is brought to farmers as part of an inclusive business model, in which their return on investment is placed in the forefront. In this context, digitalisation – and in particular drones - can address the inequality of information and access to vital products to better help farmers protect their crops, improve their productivity and achieve greater profitability.

 

 

Drones are remote-controlled aircrafts, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Combined with analytic tools, drones help farmers to collect real-time information about their farms, including indexes to describe the nutritional status of plants, plant biomass and crop development affected by abiotic and biotic stresses. Similar to satellites, drones equipped with special sensors can collect multispectral images that, if combined with weather data, ground truth data and expert opinion, can generate algorithms to predict and monitor for the presence of pests, diseases and weeds. The thus generated “Early Disease Warning Systems“ help agronomists and farmers to better understand plant disease and pests, determine the right time to apply crop protection products and thus help farmers make decisions based on scientific data rather than generic recommendations or historical information.

 

Drones are also being used to apply crop protection products. This is especially relevant in developing countries, as farmers currently rely heavily on applying agrochemicals with backpack sprayers and cannot afford the application with tractors or airplanes.

 

Most experts agree that the farming sector is ageing rapidly. Based on my in-field observations I agree: the average age of the head of the household on a farm is 50. Imagine how difficult is for these farmers to spray crop protection products with a sprayer of about 20 kgs in their back during 8 hours in 40°C weather! The introduction of drones can make a real difference here. This innovative application technology could replace one of the most physically demanding jobs and thereby could also motivate rural youth, with an affinity for digital technology, to engage in agriculture in developing countries.

 

BASF consultants hold a training session with smallholder farmers in Colombia. (c) Fernando Mora/BASF

Drones are up to 50 times faster than the typical backpack sprayer, reducing the time and cost spent on spraying. In our experience, drones use up to 90 percent less water than backpack sprayers, helping farmers to conserve vital resources, particularly in areas of water scarcity. And with greater accuracy, there is less waste and less risk of off-target deposition or unintended environmental impact. Due to the targeted application, drones are more efficient in controlling plant diseases compared to backpack spraying.

 

Every farmer, irrespective of the size of the holding, has a right to safety protection as key component of health and wellbeing. Drones represent a unique opportunity to make farm work safer and reduce the potential exposure to agrochemicals. However, currently smallholders cannot afford drones. Indeed, the usage of drones by smallholders in Latin America requires three changes:

  • An operational shift from farmers applying crop protection themselves to farmers utilizing spray service providers. This will also generate additional employment for trained service providers with drones.
  • A technology shift from application with back-pack sprayers to application with drones.
  • A business model shift with an ecosystem of partners, including the farmers, who economically benefit from bringing this technology to the farm.

There are still challenges to overcome. For example. some countries do not yet have regulations around the use of drones, while farmers and potential spray service providers need access to training and equipment — as with conventional crop protection technology, drones need to be used responsibly. But the potential to transform agriculture in low- and middle-income countries makes drones a promising innovation in leveling the field for smallholder farmers worldwide.

 

Go back

Ähnliche Beiträge

The hope of development cooperation lays in innovation

Policy makers wish for innovation. But what is an innovation that truly takes Africa a step forward? With the support of the SEWOH partners, journalist Jan Grossarth took a critical look at the demand for innovation.

Is innovation a cure? A meaningless filler? Even problematic? And: In what way? Taking a critical post-colonial look at the past, the “innovation history” of Africa appears to be a double-edged sword, in any case. Historian Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga, who teaches at MIT in the USA, deplores the failure and even largely destructive effect of “western” technology and knowledge exports to Africa. In his works about innovation in Africa, “capitalistic entrepreneurship” appears as “imperialism” in modified form and downright “parasitical” in its nature. A problematic definition of innovation, he says, has been transferred to Africa particularly from Europe. A definition that is limited to technical aspects, industrial scaling and commercial use.

Read more

The path from the greenhouse into practice

Innovative ideas like apps are popular showcases. But for the successful implementation of an innovation, thinking beyond the boundaries of projects is necessary. Lennart Woltering explains in an interview how to move from the greenhouse into practice.

Read more

How the Green Innovation Centre in Mali backs women in the San lowlands

Proper nutrition. An adequate diet. Higher incomes and more employment in rural areas. These are the goals of the 15 Green Innovation Centres established in Africa and Asia on behalf of the BMZ. But how are these goals put into practice in Bamako, Mali?

Read more

Babban Gona's holistic financing approach

What are innovative financing mechanisms and how can financing help to scale innovations? Kola Masha, Managing Director of Babban Gona explains his holistic business model, which he built up in Nigeria with financial help and support from the German KfW.

Read more

Even innovations take their time

Some good ideas never become reality. It takes patience, long-term thinking and the courage to learn from mistakes. Based on a conversation with software developer Simon Riedel, journalist Jan Rübel focused on the challenges of innovation in an international development context.

Read more

Accelerating Development in Rural Areas through Innovation

In order to make rural areas fit for the future and to sustainably improve the nutrition of many people, innovative approaches and solutions are needed. That is why SEWOH has created Green Innovation Centers, thereby providing important impetus for progress and innovation.

Read more

From Space to Seed: Innovation for world nutrition

From crop forecasts out of space to resistant seeds: What ideas and technologies have been developed in recent years to revolutionize the world's nutrition? We present a selection of innovations that could be decisive in the fight against hunger.

Read more

Meet the people: Joseph Ngaah

Joseph Ngaah is chairman of the Kakamega County Farmers Association in Kenya. Through his commitment at national and local level, he gives farmers a voice - both in the media and with political decision-makers. Within the SEWOH, he cooperates with the Andreas Hermes Academy, the Green Innovation Centers and TMG - Sustainable Think Tank.

Read more

Genetic engineering, fertilisers and agricultural chemicals - conflicting perspectives

Is modern genetic engineering an innovative answer for ensuring global food supply? And what about fertilisers and agricultural chemicals? Felix Prinz zu Löwenstein believes all three are part of the problem. Matthias Berninger thinks rejecting these new technologies is a risky ideological proposition. A debate.

Read more

Climate change affects everyone, but not equally

Claudia Ringler, Deputy Division Director of EPTD at IFPRI, describes the adverse impacts of climate change and its related risks on populations in poor countries. What can be done to reduce the impact of climate change on food and nutrition security?

Read more

The world needs empowered farmers!

The world needs empowered farmers! But what does that mean and how can it be organized? With the support of the SEWOH partners, journalist Jan Grossarth has gathered guiding thoughts on the topic in an article.

Organised agricultural lobbying is rare in industrialised nations. Is the political influence of certain interest groups that have excellent parliamentary connections and work quietly behind the scenes in aid of meat exports or biomass subsidies excessively large and insufficiently transparent? Such questions are a subject of discussion in Europe and the USA, but also in Brazil or Argentina. And for good reason. With regard to global food security another, to some extent countervailing question arises: how can “good lobbying” for the development interests of the world’s smallholders emerge? Would it not, after all, be widely beneficial, and also necessary in order to ensure a stable global food supply, if the hundreds of millions of local farmers in Africa and Asia were able to represent their income- and development-related interests more effectively in parliaments, the media and international organisations?

Read more

Agroecology at UN level: The FAO's Scaling up Agroecology Initiative

Growing scientific evidence and local experiences demonstrate how agroecology has the potential to offer a holistic response to the multiple and interrelated challenges facing food systems.

Read more

The garden of agroecology: A few real-life examples

The challenges of population growth, dwindling biodiversity and climate change require to rethink our current food systems and call for solution approaches in terms of an agroecological transformation.

Read more

Why the transformation of our food systems is imperative

Current crises highlight the need to transform food systems. Dr Sinclair, team leader of the World Food Security Committee, presents 13 agro-ecological principles that might be effective for change.

Read more

Ms Neubert, what is a trilemma? And what can be done about it?

In order to alleviate the trilemma of land use, the climate crisis, the destruction of biodiversity and the food crisis must be addressed simultaneously. Susanne Neubert explains in an interview what such strategies might look like.

Read more

A globally popular export

"One for all, all for one" - this motto became the basis for action of agricultural cooperatives that were founded in the 19th century. They became a success story that will continue to be written well into the 21st century.

Read more

The right to nutrition: how we can realise it

Stefan Schmitz is head of the Crop Trust and has been SEWOH Commissioner until 2019. We asked him which aspects of the SEWOH could be groundbreaking in order to achieve global goals such as SDG 2 at a national and a global level.

Read more

A masterplan for nutrition governance

Ending worldwide hunger by 2030 requires effective governance. This masterplan is based on the experience of the GIZ global programme for “Food and Nutrition Security, Enhanced Resilience,” which works on improving nutrition governance in ten countries around the world.

Read more

Creating a political momentum for global food governance

To feed the world's population in 2050, "the fine art of governance" is required, according to Jan Grossarth. With the help of the SEWOH partners, he has shed light on what this art includes and what challenges it encounters.

There has been some modest progress everywhere and in many thousands of local projects. But what if this won’t be enough in view of the global challenge? According to UN forecasts, Africa’s population is set to double by 2050, reaching over two billion people. Yet food imports on the continent are already exceeding exports, so it is not providing enough food for itself. Climate forecasts are predicting that in some African (and Asian) regions average temperatures will rise by 3 degrees or more. Moreover, deserts are spreading, with the prospect that development cooperation will be ineffective if it merely distributes resources under the watering can principle. 

Read more

Global Hunger Index: Political action is the key

The World Hunger Index 2020 indicates that the goal of "Zero Hunger by 2030" will not be met. Miriam Wiemers, leading expert for the World Hunger Index, traces the main challenges and describes how the path to Zero Hunger can be taken.

Read more

Why successful transformation needs strong governance?

The special initiative One World no hunger (SEWOH) is one donor nation's attempt to decisively push forward the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG 2). Observations and conclusions from the accompanying discourse.

In the summer of 2019, António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), raised the alarm on the growing number of people going hungry. A “World Food Systems Summit” (UNFSS) in the autumn of 2021 intends to draw the necessary public attention to the issue of combatting hunger and increasing sustainability and provide fresh impetus for transforming the entire food system. In 2014, Germany’s Federal Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development, Gerd Müller, launched a remarkable experiment: SEWOH, the Special Initiative ONEWORLD No Hunger. The idea was to drastically advance UN Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG 2) with a sector approach initially driven by a single donor nation. Germany has invested around 1.5 billion euros annually towards achieving the UN goal, becoming the world’s second-largest donor in the fields of food security, rural development and agriculture. The initiative has explored new possibilities, yet it also had to face its limits. Vastly exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, it had to realise the vulnerabilities of global food security.  

Read more

Climate crises

Population growth, lawlessness and dwindling resources, accelerated by climate change, are leading to conflicts that leave thousands dead across the Sahel every year. "Many will leave their homelands or perish from hunger, disease or wars. Only rapid socioeconomic development [...] would be able to prevent this disaster."

Read more

Agroecology: a global political guiding perspective?

Agroecology is a popular buzzword in food policy worldwide. It is based on a complex concept that journalist Jan Grossarth, with the support of the SEWOH partners, has examined and called into question.

Agroecology cannot be defined in one phrase. It would take some pages. As a political guiding perspective – perhaps because of its variety – it is suitable to pleasing everyone. The European Commission is relying on this approach as part of the Green Deal as its 10-year transformation plan, and the term is also mentioned in the Farm to Fork food strategy of the EU Commission. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has commissioned its leading experts from the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) to shed light on the approach in a 163-page report (the HLPE Report, 2019). The summary alone uses eleven key points in its definition. An agroecological approach, it says, “favours the use of natural processes, limits the use of external inputs, promotes closed cycles with minimal negative externalities and stresses the importance of local knowledge and participatory processes” – while also being designed to reduce social inequalities and to help the sciences to gain in importance. 

Read more

Beyond your own field

An exchange program between the German Farmers' Association and the Andreas Hermes Academy for young German and Ugandan farmers shows: North-South cooperation works best at eye level. Four graduates report on what is possible when farmers learn from each other.

Read more

Labels, customs tariffs and supply chain legislation: Do they benefit or harm smallholders?

In the discussion about sustainability in supply chains, European states focus on labels, customs tariffs and government regulations. With the support of the SEWOH partners, Jan Grossarth questions these measures.

After the eight-storey Rana Plaza factory collapsed in Bangladesh in April 2013, killing over a thousand textile workers under the rubble, the issue of human rights in sewing factories dominated global news for a few days. The initial shock turned into shame. After all, wasn’t everyone who bought cheap T-shirts and jeans somehow responsible? This was followed by a political debate: Hadn’t the disaster happened in a domain where the state, i.e. Bangladesh, should have ensured compliance with its laws? Or, on the other hand, do we not have a say in the regulations determining how the products we consume are manufactured? Not only through consumption, but through our government and companies?

Read more

Farmers in revolt-their movement brings unity and hope

Since 2014, a law has guaranteed all Indians sufficient healthy food at affordable prices. Now one of the biggest waves of protest in history is rocking the subcontinent. Farmers are fighting back against laws that abolish guaranteed minimum prices and put nutrition programmes in jeopardy.  

 

Read more

Deforestation and ecosystem conversion: a strict EU legal framework is imperative

Christine Scholl, Senior Advisor at WWF Germany, explains why a binding and comprehensive EU regulation is crucial in avoiding deforestation and conversion of valuable ecosystems and what such legislation must take into account.

Read more

Banking on innovation and sustainability in the cocoa value chain

Juliette Kouassi founded the cocoa cooperative ABOUd'CAO in Côte d'Ivoire, which dismantles traditional role definitions. The aim is to promote women producers and "throw anything away in the cocoa value chain, by rendering value to everything."

Read more

We begins with you: Three propositions for consumer communication

Generation Z (1995-2010) is forcing manufacturers of consumer goods to rethink their production values. The “Greta effect” not only compels companies to act. It also promises great potential for development cooperation to reach its goals.  

Read more

Supply chains: “The EU’s general principle is to support, not to punish”

Aside from the German Federal government, EU institutions are also encouraging the introduction of a supply chain law. What would be the consequences? Questions for Bettina Rudloff of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP).

Read more

In the land of conflicts 

Land is the foundation of life for most Ugandans. In central Uganda, an ancient land tenure system has caused an impasse for both landlords and tenants hence causing conflicts for decades. An innovative approach to conflict solving, and awareness-raising is about to create change.

Read more