Drone technology and the agricultural sector

There is probably a case for suggesting that the current (understandable) preoccupation with the imminent commencement of oil exploitation offshore Guyana and what this could mean for the future economic shape of our country could serve as a distraction from other equally important issues that have a bearing on the economy of our country and the well-being of our people. 

Contextually, one of the issues that has arisen has to do with the need not to allow our focus on our hoped-for petro dollar bonanza to detract from the country’s historical acknowledgement of its agricultural base, so that even in circumstances where we have arrived at the stage of being an oil-exporting country we do not find ourselves confronted with multi-million dollar food import bills arising out of the sudden emergence of a pattern of conspicuous consumption arising out of our new-found condition of affluence.

The other point to be made about the nexus between an oil economy and a further consolidation of our traditional focus on agriculture is the opportunity which our increased earnings will afford to allow for greater investment in agriculture, not least in bringing thousands of acres of new lands under cultivation, accelerating our food export drive and infusing more technology into enhancing the efficiency of the sector. 

These days, it is almost impossible to come upon references to global developments in agriculture, going forward,  without there being some comment, whether directly or otherwise, on drone technology and how it has already begun to contribute to the shape of agriculture globally and is likely to do so increasingly in the period ahead. 

One might add that given Guyana’s unquestioned status as a producer of food in the region that this is not a discourse that we can afford to be excluded from. While, there has occurred, a greater focus on the role of robotics in the development process as a whole there has been very little sustained reference to robotics, and more specifically, drones, in the furtherance of our agricultural pursuits.

That is why it was encouraging to read a recent comment from Agriculture Minister Noel Holder regarding the deficiencies in “our current system of agronomic practices in many sectors” including the highly valued rice industry and the role that “drone technology” can play in improving productivity in the sector. He went further, commenting on the ability of drones “to conduct surveys and tell farmers exactly how many acres are under cultivation,” which information can be used to determine quantities of fertilizer needed.

But that is not enough. We know that drones have the ability to produce accurate 3-D maps of entire fields that can be applied to multiple purposes including soil analysis on moisture content, soil erosion and soil property, considerations of the utmost importance when it comes to planning seed planting patterns. There is, as well, an invaluable role for drones in monitoring fields, developing time series animations which can show crop development with great precision and scan fields.

 As contemporary hi-tech tools go, the benefits of applying drones in agriculture far outweigh their acquisition and while there is not a great deal of information available up until now about infusing a greater measure of drone technology into the agricultural sector, one gets to thinking that at a time when we are probably on the cusp of raising our game as far as the sector is concerned it is high time that we hear more about such plans as may exist for the wholescale introduction of drones in the agricultural sector, the formulation  of regulations governing the use of drones, the training of farmers in the use of drone technology and the creation of a pool of expertise that can sustain the infusion of drone technology into agricultural sector. The point to be made here is if  by Minister Holder’s own admission the requirements of the agricultural sector – in terms of more efficient farming culture – demand that we in Guyana raise our game as far as the application of contemporary technology is concerned then it is high time that the process of embracing drone technology as a tool in the agricultural sector unfold with an enhanced sense of urgency. 

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