Nairobi Innovation Week : Innovations in Agriculture With Drone Technology

The Nairobi Innovation Week 2018 held at the University of Nairobi on 5th to 9th March was a great success. This year’s innovation week featured great minds  with presentations from companies like Astral Aerial, The Copyright Board, AFERIA ,among others, with only one goal in mind- To Launch us into the next generation of innovators.

The NIW ,which is a government supported program, brings together partners from the government, private sector, development partners and research centers with an aim of providing a platform for showcasing and encouraging innovation over and above networking and sharing knowledge.

This year, one of the most impressive innovations showcased at NIW 2018 was a project by ASTRAL AERIAL  .Astral Aerial flaunted one of the latest innovation in Agriculture, Drones or better known as UAVs (Unmanned Air Vehicles) . They  sensitized the people on how to utilize modern methods like the drone technology to support farmers by giving them the ability to increase yield sustainability.

Farmers in Kenya are getting excited of the possibility of incorporating drone technology in agriculture. Gone are the days when a farmer who wanted to plant his own crops had to go out to the field to plant by hand. Then they would hope against hope that the odds are not stacked against them that they would grow and when they did, still go back and harvest by hand.

Advances in modern technology have helped revolutionize the agricultural industry. From robotic cow milking stations and electronic cow tagging devices, to irrigation apps and driverless tractors, life on the farm has become high-tech. (So, goodbye  shamba boy jokes) Some of the newest  technology are low-cost drones that farmers are relying to reduce the hoping and the guess work from their businesses.

You are probably excited to find out how exactly you can use the drone technology in your farm, but first here are a few things you need to know about operating drones in Kenya.

  • A drone permit is required for commercial and recreational use of Drones in Kenya. They can be obtained from Local aviation authority.
  • For commercial users, you need to have a trained and approved pilot to operate the drone and for recreational users; you need to join a drone club or association as part of the permit process.
  • You are prohibited to fly over crowds of people, military installations ,powerplants and airports
  • Operating a drone without a permit, or acquiring  a drone with military specifications, assembly or testing drones will attract a fine of Ksh 2million or a six months imprisonment.

How Drones can be used in Agriculture

Drone and mapping systems can be very instrumental at the start of the crop cycle. They produce precise 3-D maps for early soil analysis which can tip off farmers to irrigation, soil and infestation problems. The data collected from the soil analysis can also be used for irrigation and nitrogen management. Drones also feature infrared technologies which can map out distinction between healthy and damaged crops.

Several startups in the drone technology field have created some drone planting systems that can achieve an uptake of 75% and decrease the planting cost by 85%. The systems are cleverly designed to shoot seedling pods and plant nutrients into the soil, providing the plant all the necessary nutrients to support growth and sustain life.

One of the largest obstacles for farmers with vast fields of crops is low efficiency in crop monitoring. The monitoring challenges are greatly exacerbated by unpredictable weather conditions which normally drive risk and field maintenance costs. With drone technology time series animations can show the precise development of crops and reveal production inefficiencies enabling better crop management.

Drone tech presents farmers with Autonomous precision spraying capabilities.  They are made possible by the distance measuring equipment, ultrasonic echoing and lasers which enable the drone to adjust the altitude as the topography and geography vary. They can also scan the ground and spray the exact amount of liquid modulating distance from the ground and spraying in real time. It’s estimated that 4000-6000m can be covered in 10 minutes and 40-60 times faster than manual spraying.

BY scanning a crop with both visible and near infra-red light, drones can identify which plants reflect different amounts of green light and NIR light for health assessment purposes. This information can provide images that track the changes in a plants health. In the event of total crop failure, a farmer can use the information gathered for insurance claims.

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