Drone inspection opens the way for precision farming in Africa

oct. 14 2019

Covering over 30 million square kilometers, Africa accounts for around 20% of the Earth’s land, with terrains that encompass deserts, savanna plains and tropical rainforest. Agriculture on the world’s second-largest and hottest continent therefore presents particular challenges: farms often span thousands of hectares, and farmers often have issues with parasites and fungus. At the same time, these large-scale exporters must also comply with ever more stringent regulation of pesticides. In order to remain competitive in the world market, they therefore require specialized solutions that increase productivity while reducing costs.

To support agriculture clients in this strategic region, Bureau Veritas has developed precision farming solutions based on crop inspection by drone. Services are provided under a framework partnership agreement with Delta Drone. The aim is to develop precision farming inspection services by consolidating Bureau Veritas ground data – for example analyses of soil, leaves and roots – with aerial data acquired by Delta Drone. These services can add value to all types of plantation, from rubber, palm oil, sugar cane and banana tree to cocoa. Several pilot programs in Ivory Coast proved successful, and the partnership is now taking the solution to 12 other French-speaking nations.

Goodbye to a scattergun approach: hello to precision farming

Precision farming aims to minimize risk and maximize returns for growers by monitoring crop and farm development with a view to improving management. The use of drones in this model means that crops and farms can be monitored, sometimes over years, for such information as number of trees, strength and homogeneity of plant development, areas of vegetation stress, chlorophyll content, general health conditions, fertilization, and irrigation.

Problem areas identified from the sky can then be analyzed using highly efficient ground-based sample testing. As a result, farmers can adapt operations such as fertilizer planning and the use of phytosanitary products to make them more targeted, sustainable and productive. 

Fast mapping for better planning

Another, more immediately accessible use of this technique that brings together data collected from the sky and on the ground is in cartography. Thorough information-gathering can help farmers design future plantations to maximize potential yields, define land lots, and identify optimal drainage systems. This kind of data has long been an important tool for farmers, but while in the past it might have taken up to three weeks to monitor a farm of 50 hectares, Bureau Veritas-Delta Drone teams can cover the same surface in just 15 minutes. At such rates, monitoring can be repeated every six to eight weeks to enable growers to compare data.

Building on the success of the Ivory Coast pilot project, Bureau Veritas aims to become a leading player in the region’s agriculture sector within the next two years. It hopes to use learnings from drone inspection work in agri-food, notably the handling of huge amounts of data, to develop offers for its other markets such as telecommunications, mining and construction. To this end, the company is already working with Delta Drone on a pilot project with a leading international telecommunications company to use drone technology in the verification and monitoring of telephone pylons.