May 28, 2022
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Asian farmers turn to drones, apps for labor, climate challenges

Asian farmers turn to drones, apps for labor, climate challenges

 – As a baby, Manit Boonkhiew watched his grandparents plough their rice farm close to Bangkok with water buffaloes, and harvest by hand. His mother and father switched to tractors and threshers, whereas he now makes use of a zippy drone to spray pesticide in his area.

Manit, who grows rice, orchids and fruit bushes on about 40 acres (16 hectares) of land in Ban Mai, is a part of a group enterprise that just lately acquired a drone underneath a Thai authorities programme to digitise agriculture.

Drones to plant seeds, and spray pesticide and fertilisers are rising in reputation within the Southeast Asian nation because it grapples with a labour scarcity that worsened through the coronavirus pandemic, with restrictions on motion of employees.

Labour is the biggest challenge for us – it’s hard to get, and it’s expensive,” stated Manit, 56, a frontrunner of the Ban Mai Neighborhood Rice Centre farm that includes 57 members with practically 400 acres of land.

“With the drone, we not only save money on labour, we can also be more precise. It’s faster and safer, as we are not exposed to the chemicals, and it can help us deal with climate-change impacts such as less rain more easily,” he stated.

The Ban Mai group is a part of a wider transformation of agriculture in Asia Pacific, the place synthetic intelligence (AI) and massive knowledge are powering smartphones, robots and drones to enhance farming methods, increase crop yields and incomes.

The development in the direction of data-based precision agriculture and different digital instruments is being pushed by demographic modifications, technological advances and climate change, in accordance to the Meals and Agriculture Group (FAO).

“They help farmers produce more with less water, land, inputs, energy and labour, while protecting biodiversity and reducing carbon emissions,” the FAO stated in a report at a regional convention on digitalisation in agriculture this week.

Farmers can optimise yields and obtain major cost savings, enhanced efficiency, and more profitability,” it stated.

However agricultural know-how – or agri-tech – additionally poses dangers from job losses to social inequities and knowledge governance considerations. The applied sciences may be pricey and onerous to undertake, notably for ladies and older farmers, specialists stated.

“In India, there are far more pressing concerns that the government should be paying attention to,” stated Nachiket Udupa with the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture.

“We’ve seen massive farmers‘ protests in India on issues like the minimum support price and lack of support from the government. Drones are not the biggest issue for farmers,” he advised the Thomson Reuters Basis.



Worldwide, the rise of cloud computing and AI applied sciences have popularised the usage of large knowledge in quite a few functions in agriculture – from irrigation controllers to providers that seize and analyse knowledge on the soil, climate and crop yields.

Asia Pacific is without doubt one of the quickest rising markets for digital farming data and marketplaces, fintech options, and blockchain technologies for meals traceability.

However smallholders in Asia largely use solely low-cost instruments resembling digital soil-testing kits and app-based or text-based providers for climate forecasting due to price obstacles, abilities gaps and regulatory bottlenecks, the FAO stated.

Ladies too, face extra constraints in accessing applied sciences.

In India, the common measurement of a land holding is lower than 2 hectares, which doesn’t lend itself to a lot mechanisation or digitisation – that are additionally costly for most farmers, stated Udupa.

There are about 20 million farmers in India who use some know-how, a fraction of the practically 500 million farmers within the nation, stated M. Haridas, co-founder of DataVal Analytics, that has an AI-based cell app to present real-time crop evaluation.

“Data makes farming more democratic – even smallholders can access AI and machine learning to improve yields and returns,” he stated.

“The biggest challenges are the lack of devices, lack of internet connectivity and lack of training,” he added.

To enhance rural web connectivity, the FAO’s “digital villages” initiative has teamed up with tech companies resembling Microsoft and IBM in 1,000 websites worldwide, together with in Nepal, Bangladesh, Fiji, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam.

“The aim is to use technology to advance and improve agriculture, nutrition, health and well-being of citizens, especially rural populations,” stated Sridhar Dharmapuri, a senior meals security and vitamin officer at FAO, noting that that is notably essential after disruptions from COVID-19.

“As 4G services expand and 5G services are rolled out, the decreasing costs of smartphones and data are accelerating the adoption of digital tools, including among small holders and family farmers, therefore powering further inclusion” he added.



Regardless of regulatory hurdles and land fragmentation, the Asia-Pacific area is the quickest rising market for agricultural drones, in accordance to the FAO, pushed by native suppliers, falling costs, and rising labour prices.

Governments within the area are utilizing drones, with satellite tv for pc imagery, for climate forecasts, catastrophe administration and crop insurance coverage, in addition to for monitoring and mapping crops strategic for meals safety, principally rice.

In India, so-called kisan drones, or farmer drones, are to be used for crop harm evaluation and digitisation of land records, which dangers excluding ladies and tillers who’re sometimes not named in land information, stated Udupa.

“Land records are a mess in India – so using drones won’t solve the issue,” he stated.

Drones are largely being pushed as a means of greater mechanisation because there is a perception that farm labour is getting relatively expensive. But for the average small or marginal farmers, these technologies are simply unaffordable.”

In Thailand, the state digital economic system promotion company has, since 2020, given particular person farmers a ten,000-baht ($306) grant for agri-tech, whereas group enterprises get a 300,000-baht grant.

In Ban Mai, a vivid orange 10-litre agriculture drone from the company sits in a black carton, ready to be used as quickly as some farmers get a licence to function it.

Within the meantime, the group has been hiring a drone from considered one of its members, who purchased a 30-litre drone along with his financial savings after battling fixed labour shortages on his rice farm.

“A lot of people hire me to spray their farms, because they see how efficient and cost-effective it is,” stated Sayan Thongthep, 52.

“I’m going to train my daughter also to operate the drone – it’s a good way to get youngsters interested in farming.” – Reuters

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