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African Union embraces drones technology for agriculture

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African Union publishes a  Decision EX . CL/Dec. 986-1007 (XXXII), the Executive Council of the African Union (AU), requests the AU and Member States to harness drones for agriculture as one of three emerging technologies of relevance for African development.


The recently held African Union saw its Executive Council of the African Union requesting the AU and Member States to harness drones for agriculture.

Drones or the Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been in existence for decades and initially used in the military. Today drones have permeated the development world and has been applied in agriculture, health, land mapping and other sectors.

image credit: Justin Fox/tataclimate.org

Many countries in Africa have already started to test or use drones on a local scale in health and agriculture. In agriculture for example the EU-funded Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation (CTA) an international organization with 79 countries across Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific and EU Member states has supported activities related to drones in Africa and Caribbean Countries (2)

For example, in 2016, CTA published an ICT Update dedicated to ‘Drones for Agriculture’ and is working to involve the youth in the use of drones in agriculture. While the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations have used drones in Myanmar and other regions.

Meanwhile, the AU’s endorsement on drones, "upheld the recommendation proposed by the Specialized Technical Committee on Education, Science and Technology (STC) in October 2017, whose report was subsequently presented in the African Union Summit in January 2018, culminating in the issuance of this decision" writes Giacomo Rambaldi of CTA. This is a breakthrough for drones use in agriculture with a high-level continental endorsement.

The work of the High Level African Panel on Emerging Technologies (APET) appointed by the then chairperson of African Union Commission (AUC) HE Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has given fruit. Obviously adopting new technologies bring controversies regarding the mix of benefits and potential adverse effects.

Regulation on the use of drones

One of the challenges on the use of drones is the regulatory framework. Each African country (and indeed others) have promulgated laws that regulate the use of drones. CTA published a compendium of policies, laws and regulations governing the use if drones in 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.

The study showed that as of April 2016, 73% of ACP countries did not have any rules or regulations in place; 19% had some regulations in place; and 8% were in the process of formulating them.

©FSD,2018

Another resource useful to check for drones regulations is the Global Drone Regulations Database. The database composed of country directories with summaries of national drone laws and was launched as a Wiki by UAViators in 2014.

The stringent regulations imposed in most African countries in the import and use of drones, and the high cost of obtaining commercial license inhibits the uptake of this technology in agriculture especially among the youth and smallholder farmers.

Capacity Development on drones

Many developmental partners are offering localized training on the use of drones in agriculture.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and partners, through the e-Agriculture Community of Practice ran the e-Agriculture Learning Activity on the use of drones in agriculture and rural development.

This learning activity attracted more than 600 participants in the various learning activities offered.

The self-learning activity focused on what drones are, how they can be used in agriculture, including forestry and emergency situations; and also the regulatory framework. The material is available here for those interested to read it.

CTA also runs a discussion UAV4Ag forum on Dgroups where interested individuals can join and share their experiences on the use of drones in agriculture.

Through this platform, users can ask country level specific requirements and also get to know the trainings available in their country and region.

Conclusion

This AUC decision paves way also for individual countries to evaluate their policy regulations on the use of drones and also for agricultural purposes. This technology can be harnessed and be useful to understand how this technology can improve agricultural productivity.

Let us know how in your country drones are used in agriculture, by replying to this news item

References consulted

  1. AU.The African Union to launch the Africa Agriculture Transformation Scorecard; towards achieving agricultural transformation
  2. Rémi Carlier. Drones to support precision agriculture in Africa
  3. CTA. ICT Update : Drones for Agriculture
  4. CTA. Drone regulation: A guide to the laws governing UAVs"
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