Drone technology to tackle pests in Botswana

After my graduation, I took up a voluntary opportunity with a national grain merchant where I was the understudy to the organizations’ agronomist. This gave me the opportunity to be appointed as an agronomist working for the biggest commercial agriculture and wildlife safari tourism hub in my country.

In Pandamatenga village about 2700 hectares of land has been allocated to small scale farmers in the local community. A further 45 000 hectares has been allocated to commercial farmers for cultivation. All these farmers practice rain fed, arable farming and grow common crops such as maize, sorghum, and beans. There are a few trials with wheat and chickpeas.

It is essential to take into consideration that Botswana, being located in the Sub-Saharan desert, has some of the harshest climatic conditions for a farmer to thrive in but still remain resilient. The area has high temperatures, unreliable rainfall and in addition, high infestation of pests. One of these are Quelea birds, which migrate between Zimbabwe and Botswana. These pests end up lowering the yield of sorghum, a staple crop of Botswana.

In addition to agriculture, Pandamatenga village has value as a tourist destination because the surrounding wild forest land harbours a large population of diverse wild animals such as elephants, lions, buffalos. Eland antelopes are another pest intruding on fields where sugar bean are grown. Antelope are particularly fond of sugar bean. Last year alone (2018) over 10 000 ha of sorghum fields were damaged by these migratory birds and about over 250 ha of bean fields where damaged by foraging ntelope .

Through my extension services work I have developed a passion and motivation to promote the idea of integrating drone technology to sustainable manage the Quelea and Eland Antelope intrusions. It is my idea that the most appropriate drones to use would be ones that utilize solar energy as Botswana has lots of sunshine. This idea will not only benefit the crop protection aspect of agriculture in Pandamatenga, but also can be used for soil fertility, land restoration, managing  anti-poaching activities and wild fire prevention. It will have an agro-ecological benefit as it takes into account wild animals, the wild forest and the farming lands.


Source: Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board Gallery

Before expounding on this idea, perhaps it is important to note the previous methods that we tried to apply in our extension office that had unsatisfactory  outcomes. As a biological form of control we tried using Falcons to chase away the Quelea. It worked in the early stages but it’s effectiveness declined as time passed. We used blasting every now and then to let the noise scare both the Quelea birds and Eland Antelopes away. However, given the unpredictable nature of rains in Botswana it has proved ineffectual to blast because the atmosphere remains damp. Therefore drone technology seems to be a viable alternative, much more precise and progressive. Although this is still a conceptual idea, I believe the IUPAC 2019 conference will offer me the opportunity to sharpen this. How I envisioned this idea being applied was through the following steps:

Educating farmers and all the relevant stakeholders on Drone technology to raise awareness: given that drone technology is a new idea to Botswana, it is inevitable that hosting farmer workshops to teach them about drone technology and the possibilities of utilizing them in the Agricultural sector would shift the mindset of farmers towards being precision orientated. Furthermore, capacity building activities could be imparted on farmers, especially young farmers in rural communities, so that they gain the technical know-how of operating such technology. Government officials and other legislating bodies could come together with drone tech specialists in these awareness campaigns so that we teach local communities on licensing when using drones for farms especially if the drones will be used with avicides.dea, define its direction and network with expert peers and mentors that have been exposed to precision farming with their diverse background.

Solicit the farmers association in Pandamatenga to collaborate and pledge to buy a drone for trials and demonstrations: Through my extension work and the advisory services I offer farmers in my network, I have realized that they have the ‘common purpose’ approach to tackling local community issues. Therefore I would like to utilize that aspect, and perhaps they pledge and seek a common ground to procure at least one drone in order to demonstrate this idea. In this way not only will it be an investment to the association but if it proves successful then it will attract relevant stakeholders such as the Ministry of Agriculture to pledge their support to the cause or even this platform to attend the IUPAC 2019 conference. This will enable me to network with drone tech specialists who share the same sentiment of actualizing drones in Agriculture especially in a developing country thus hone the practicalities of the idea.

If successfully procured, the drone is expected to do the following: The farm of demonstration will first be mapped into the drone so that it can precisely fly towards the nest where the Quelea birds harbour themselves. As to what type of avicides will be used to spray their nest remains debatable, however, upon my interviews with various farmers concerning this idea, it would be more beneficial to them if a 10 litre drone that can spray 7 litres per hectare of an FAO-approved and government tried and tested avicide. For Eland Antelopes the farm manager or site manager will be able to identify where the antelopes harbour themselves in the farm and via transceivers or mobile phone on site then instruct the drone operator to fly the drone towards them which will be automatically scared by the noise of drones .

Other benefits of this is that the drone can use aerial pictures to identify areas that are waterlogged in the farms. As already stated Botswana experiences high temperatures. So, for the most part, it would be sustainable to use this to our advantage by incorporating solar energy into the drone, given that Pandamatenga is a village and power cuts are prone to occur and farm operations do not cease on account of that. This idea will not only benefit farmers in my area, but it will also attract young people to consider playing a role in Agriculture especially millennials as they are thought to be more tech savvy therefore creating jobs for drone specialist enthusiasts and techpreneurs who wish to diversify their field. It will boost yields, resulting in a closer step to food security for Botswana.

Antonette Ncube, Botswana

Feature photograph courtesy of Drone KingBw

164 comments

  1. The intention is clear and without doubt it will be a success, agriculture and related sectors have challenges and there is room for solutions.good idea

    Like

  2. This is very insightful. The proposed approach of creating awareness on about the potentials of drone technology
    among farmers and subsequent procurement of dranes will address the challenge of low yield from the invasion of Qualea birds and other related parasites.

    Like

  3. Dear Antoinette,
    The project concept on drones for solving the challenges of pests is smart and very feasible and has the potential to tackle numerous challenges including the issue of youth disinterest in Agriculture sector. Aerial photos and mapping are also important aspects of the concept and I see a multiplier effect spreading to other sectors on health,education etc.

    Like

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