June 4, 2019

How drone solutions can help the crop and community

Drone based solutions offer governance and traceability in a scalable manner to benefit the land, the people, and the crops.

How drone solutions can help the crop and community

The importance of agriculture in India is one of those facts that receives widespread acknowledgement primarily due to the scale of its influence. Over half of the Indian population and almost 3/4th of all households depend on agriculture for their livelihood, and with good reason. Amongst all the nations in the world, India dedicates more than four times the global average of its land to grow crops. Chances are that the writer, readers, and editors of this article are direct descendants from farmers or are actively engaged in farming.

The Indian agricultural output has gone through drastic and amazing transformational jumps. We have an agricultural trade surplus amongst nations that grow a wide range of crops for international consumption.

However, the growth that Indian agriculture has seen is not without its caveats. Consistent pursuit of surplus-driven growth has lead to land parcels in many parts of India reaching their productivity threshold and becoming progressively less productive and cultivable. States all over the country are feeling the pinch of decreasing sustainability of practices used in the decades since independence. Farmlands are among the worst performing assets nationwide as is evidenced by reports from the RBI indicating that agriculture has about 60,000 crores in non-performing assets (NPAs). While the reasons for this are complex, multi-layered, and vast, resulting from factors that go beyond just the ecological such as: the socioeconomic; and political. The following content of the article attempts to focus on aspects of the age-old problems that new-age technology can help solve, with a particular focus on drone-based solutions for the most important stakeholders in the grand scheme of things: the crop and the community.


How drone solutions can help grow crops better

From the day a seed is sown to the day the crop is harvested, a majority of stakeholders cannot track metrics such as: the health; count; and growth patterns. The broad-ranging term that is used to define this is “traceability”.
Bodies like the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations have made it their inherent goal to pursue and implement traceability in global supply chains especially in agriculture.

The UN defines traceability as “The ability to identify and trace the history, distribution, location and application of products, parts and materials, to ensure
the reliability of sustainability claims, in the areas of human rights, labour (including health and safety), the environment and anti-corruption.” Traceability is important for a number of reasons if implemented in its truest sense, it:

  • Increases the confidence of the consumer;
  • Improves functions of agribusiness entities such as: forecasting; record keeping; and response time;
  • Enables the flow of information for better accountability and reduction of fraud.

How do drones help with traceability?

Keeping track of how crops are sown, grown, and harvested is a challenge for governments and financial lenders given the fact that land holdings are often fragmented and small in India. Drone-based data solutions might hold the key to chronicling the journey of the crop, because of various reasons:

Favorable cost dynamics

The cost of drone solutions to record, measure, and monitor the entire lifecycle of a crop from the day it is sown to the day it is harvested is a fraction of the total costs incurred for labour, machinery, and chemicals inputs (i.e. less than two percent) used during the cycle. Drone data
is also a commodity with favourable marginal cost trends as its value increases while cost decreases with every additional flight over the same area.

Ease of scalability

Drone data acquisition is a method suited to digitise farms en-masse in the Indian context of small landholdings (<2 ha. on average). One drone flight of 20 minutes can digitise crop data for up to 20-30 farms.

For the frequency and granularity at which drone data can be obtained in comparison with satellite data, drone solutions offer a much more viable alternative for week-on-week insights considering factors like resolution and immediacy of deploy-ability.

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Authenticity

Drone data offers a single source of truth that provides a means for near real-time verification for stakeholders at every level; governments and agribusiness companies can understand village and taluk level trends of plantation and health to accurately estimate water consumption and soil conditions. The farmers can make authentic claims on crop damage and make incremental improvements to soil management and better crop selection.


Drone-based solutions for the community

When it comes to the pangs of the agricultural community, issues like land ownership and insurance claims have been chronic cripplers ingrained in the
broader system as default assumptions. Drone data offers a viable and economical way to democratise data in a way that addresses each of these chronic problems.

Land Ownership

Currently five percent of the population technically lay claim to over a third of agricultural land in the country. The reasons for the skewed ownership claims are the reason why drone data is currently the preferred method for large scale digitisation of land ownership by civic bodies
across the country. Drones offer an optimal method for government bodies to digitise land data in a way that satisfies timelines, accuracy, and authenticity. This allows the community to resolve disputes and carry out rightful ownership rights at a pace that does not lag behind government schemes or changing ownership patterns.

Insurance

Changing climate patterns and vagaries in the monsoon have left widespread tracts of the country either in distress or unable to function.
Traditional mechanisms in place to process and address claims at the scale of hundreds of thousands of farmers have resulted in a broken system of unclaimed insurance and disparate distribution. The government has recognised the potential of drones to be used as platforms to augment the reach of geographically isolated bodies such as the Agricultural Insurance Company of India (AIC). The Maharashtra and Karnataka state governments have already used or have plans in place to use drones to process claims and assess damages post disasters and calamities.


Beyond the Horizon

Drones merely serve better data for stakeholders in the ecosystem, the real value of drone flight, however, is unlocked only upon designing solutions that use the drone data for scaling applications mentioned above. Early pilot projects have implemented scalable systems to document the story of the crop and build foundational frameworks for the community. Start-ups, research organisations, and government bodies will have to come together to tie technology, knowledge, and society into an ecosystem that aims to remove the systemic challenges that originate from a lack of data and insight.

If you are interested to know more about how we provide the solutions listed above, get in touch with us at info@skylarkdrones.com.

If you wish to understand how drones are making their mark in the agriculture industry, just visit the dedicated agriculture section on our website

— This article was originally first published on Business of Agriculture - Volume V, 2nd Issue March-April 2019 Edition - https://bit.ly/2Iec8e5