MUMBAI, 30 August 2021: The Agriculture Industry in India employs more than half of its current population and is one of the few countries in the world to employ such large numbers, has one of the highest arable lands with over 155 million hectares, generated INR 19 lakh crore in terms of revenues in 2019 and contributed 18 percent to the India’s GDP. Despite all these achievements, India is a laggard when it comes to doubling its farmers’ incomes.
It is no surprise for India when compared to developed and other developing countries did not embrace mechanization or technology. The reasons are many. A few notable ones are the landholding size of a farmer in India is slightly above a hectare and low productivity. This makes India with over 140 million landholdings. Out of this, two-thirds are lesser than one hectare. The government despite good intentions to introduce new technologies across these farmers is a huge challenge.
Incidentally, a National Sample Survey Organization in 2003, in their report mentioned just about 10 percent of farmers had accessed any institutional source of extension to learn about new agricultural technologies in one year. Of course, this survey was conducted nearly 2 decades back. Though farmers by and large still are untouched by modern technology for many other reasons, high exorbitant costs of equipment is a primary reason.
The development and implementation of Agri Drones is one such technology that can change the very landscape of farming in India. Other countries such as China, Japan, US, and Brazil have accepted and adopted drones. India too has the potential to embrace drones in the agriculture industry as using drones can help farmers go for precision and focused agriculture. This will help them to enhance their crop efficiency while lowering their overall costs. With precision agriculture, farmers can maximize efficiency of water, fertilizers, pesticides, quality and yield of crop and overall productivity too.
According to a report titled “Use of Drones in Agriculture: Potentials, Problems and Policy Needs” by ICAR-NIASM, there are forty drone start-ups engaged to improve drone technology and simultaneously decrease the drone’s prices to make it affordable for farmers.
The report further stated, the Maharashtra government signed a MoU with the World Economic Forum (WEF) Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution to explore the possibilities of using drones for several government initiatives. Even farmers of Dahanu-Palghar tribal villages in Maharashtra use drones for organic farming, fish farming, crop rotation, bio-control, hydroponics, biowaste management, beside also using drone-based technologies on their orchards and farms.
The centre in turn, has mandated the International Crops Research Institute (ICRISAT), to use drones for agricultural research activities resulting in a number of villages to accept drones as a part of their daily lives.
How can drones actually help and benefit farmers:
The uses and benefits are plentiful if farmers embrace drones and technology. Here is a short list:
Crop monitoring – under this, farmers have the option to continuously monitor their crops and conduct surveillance at their own convenience.
Crop protection – By using drones, crops can be protected too. Spraying of pesticides at the right time in the right quantities can improve the quantity of produce as there is minimal wastage and maximum output.
Increase in productivity – Farmers using drones can also increase their productivity per acre as they use less labor for spraying pesticides or fertilizers to cite one example. Even manual surveillance can be eliminated using drones to surveil and protect.
Crop plantation – The manual work of planting trees and crops earlier done by farmers can now be replaced with drones as it will help save on labor, costs, and fuel too. As organic and sustainable farming is being embraced by many not only in India, but globally, drones can eliminate the need for tractors thus helping the environment too.
Managing Livestock – Farmers generally tend to have animals such as livestock in large numbers too. In this case, the livestock can be monitored and managed efficiently as drones have sensors and cameras. Predators can be seen before an attack and even a sick animal can be identified and rescued quickly.
Water management – Water is a precious resource especially for farmers. Better water management helps farmers grow their produce even more effectively. In this scenario, efficient water management is possible using drones as it uses ultra-low volume spraying technology compared to the traditional ways.
Locust control – Farmers dread the swarm of locusts that attack their crops in large numbers. Millions of locusts generally wipe out entire crops overnight which can result in a financial disaster for farmers and the economy too at large. With the use of drones, these locusts can be eliminated spraying insecticides over them without harming the crops and livestock too.
Drones do have certain limitations. Not everyone can manage a drone. A trained drone operator is required to do the job. Though it is a constraint to find an operator quickly, the possibility of many more being trained to use drones is on the rise.
Drone Rules 2021
Understanding and accepting drones must be a front runner when it comes to agricultural activities, the Indian government has introduced the Drone Rules 2021 on July 15. This will replace the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules 2021 that was released on 12 March 2021.
Under the new rules, operating drones should have a unique identification number with operators to provide details of the same on the digital sky platform. Also, the coverage of drones under Drone Rules 2021 has been increased from 300 kg to 500 kg which is beneficial for farmers as the payload can now be substantially increased cutting down their total cost.
Summing up, the market for agricultural drones alone is an impressive $1.3 billion and growing year on year. Even the number of drone startups have increased substantially in India. As the world’s population is growing, the stress on diminishing agricultural land to yield produce more is and will be felt in the coming decades. The use of drone technology will only help the farmers to work smarter and efficiently if they quickly accept and embrace the inevitable for drone technology is the future and is here to stay.
Written by Pushpendra Shukla
Image credit: ag.dji.com