Drones are now extensively used in agriculture, for crop spraying, data mapping, detecting diseases among plants and keeping pests away.
In the last decade, companies and start ups in African countries have joined the cause. e-AgriSky is a Lomé-based vocational school for training farmers, set up by Edeh Dona Etchri, an entrepreneur who leads CLIN SARLU. Others, such as DJI and XAG, have commercialised the use of drones and made them accessible in Africa.
With each passing year, industry leaders are bringing in innovations and enhanced features.
The DJI AGRAS T30 comes with 16 nozzles, a 30 litre spray tank, and a payload capacity of 40 kg. The branch-targeting technology, with adjustable arms allows the gadget to navigate thick canopies, and the oblique spraying allows more leaf coverage area. The Smart Agriculture Cloud Platform and cloud-based mapping helps users manage a 3D orchard, which serves as an introduction to digital agriculture.
Agras T30 has a spray range of nine metres, and covers 40 acres in an hour. The Agras T10 on the other hand, is a compact yet powerful solution. Both Agras T30 and T10 have been built with a focus on flight safety, and their spherical radar systems scan surrounding areas at all times, when in motion. The Smart Agriculture Cloud Platform’s AI recognition system allows users to identify diseases or pests, as well as agricultural conditions.
XAG has more than 66,000 unmanned spraying systems in operation, and has covered more than 52 million ha, which makes it the largest agricultural drone company in the world.
XAG will be releasing two new generation drone models toward the end of 2021, which include the new 40L payload P80, and the innovative V40 which runs on only two sets of propellers. The reduced number of propellers improves swath spread and efficiency, while reducing maintenance.
"We have sold quite a few drones in Africa over this year, about 16 now and also the R150 buggy, a very exciting new product from XAG," said Ross Walters, director at Specialised Agricultural Services, South Africa. “I expect to see a rapid rise in the use of this technology in Africa, especially where there are no alternative options such as planes and helicopters for aerial application of agricultural chemicals. The XAG drones are also very cost effective in comparison to traditional aerial application methods.”
FIXAR’s unmanned aerial vehicle FIXAR 007, with swappable payloads allows users to carry out diverse precision agriculture missions. The drone can be equipped with a photo or video camera for aerial photography or video monitoring of livestock, with a multispectral sensor for vegetation monitoring, and identification of plant diseases. It can take off and land vertically, with an accuracy field of one metre.
Despite positive technology developments, the restrictions imposed in some African countries are restricting the widespread adoption of agricultural drones across the continent.