How the gig economy influences — and is influenced by — agro-preneurs
Think of a modern farm. You might imagine neat rows of crops, shiny new tractors, perhaps mechanized irrigation systems. But you’d be only partly right.
For truly modern agriculture, we need to look to the skies. Because that’s where drone technology will work its magic.
Drones will have a particularly powerful impact in the developing world, whose mostly smallholder farmers face enormous challenges producing quality food and selling it for a decent price.
The green shoots of this transformation already are sprouting. In the People’s Republic of China, farmers are using drones for crop-dusting. Affordable, locally manufactured drones can spray pesticides across huge areas, helping to cut labor and equipment maintenance costs. They also get the job done fast — over 500 acres per day.
Affordable, locally manufactured drones can spray pesticides across huge areas, helping to cut labor and equipment maintenance costs.
Developing countries in Asia should try to anticipate the future uses of drone technology. Drones make precision farming a reality. They can carry out surveys such as infrared mapping to gather crucial information such as crop condition, costing farmers as little as $5 per acre. With the survey data in hand, the farmer might be able to boost crop yields by 20 percent. The time spent doing the surveys is reduced from a couple of days to a couple of hours.
Drones are reshaping agriculture in developing countries. The farm sector employs most people in developing countries (PDF) but is arguably the most difficult to transform.
In these countries, agriculture doesn’t contribute as much as it should to gross domestic product because it’s typically not competitive. Most farms are small and unproductive. Young people are leaving in search of city jobs that provide higher salaries. Farms are being abandoned or left to the elderly who toil alone in the fields.
Drones could make farming easier and more profitable for those who still work the land, and even attract youth back from the city.
They also can be part of the solution to possible food shortages as more nimble, profitable smallholder farms produce more affordable food. In Asia, a booming population will account for much of the global rise in beef, poultry and fish consumption over the next decade or so.
By 2030, more than 60 percent of the developing world’s cereal demand will come from South and East Asia. To meet demand, food production will have to increase by 60 to 70 percent compared to a decade ago.
Drones and other high-tech kit might sound too expensive for poor farmers. But in fact, such technology is getting cheaper. A drone from a mainstream manufacturer costs as little as $400, and a complete system for a small farm about $5,000.
After purchasing the hardware, drones will be almost free to operate once they run on renewable energy. An octocopter drone only needs $1.20 worth of electricity from the grid to carry a 10 kg payload for 30 km.
Furthermore, once drones can work autonomously, farmers will be able to operate them by a smartphone app, pick the survey type and area, and get the results by email. It will be a cheap, high-quality service with no ownership nor maintenance fees, and include performance benchmarks based on crop type, topography, geography or climate conditions.
Dozens of tech start-ups are introducing drone technology in agriculture throughout developing Asia. They are targeting a demographic of largely young people who understand technology and how it can apply to farming. Some of these young people have been trained in cities but are not finding decent jobs there. The prospect of better incomes will entice them back to farming.
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