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Can Drones help Modernize Indian Agriculture?

Written by: Gargi Sarma, Industry Analyst @Global Launch Base

With over 155 million hectares of arable land, India has one of the largest arable land areas in the world. In order for India's farmer incomes to double, the agricultural sector must immediately adopt cutting-edge digital and precision agriculture technologies to boost farm productivity and give all farmers equal access to market information.

But, the sheer size of the population in India puts an intense demand on every square inch of land used for agriculture. As we face an increasing shortage of precious resources such as arable land and water, precision agriculture can become a potential solution to facilitate productive output from Agriculture. One such technology which holds promise in this area is the use of Drones in Agriculture.

The overall market for drone-based agricultural services in India

The present Indian market is having more than 180 drone start-ups that are working to improve the technological standards and lower the cost of agriculture drones so that they are more accessible to farmers.

However, the cost of drones, operational regulations and the scarcity of technically skilled pilots are all stumbling blocks to the growth of the drone business in India. Thus, for any evaluation and crop planning at the grassroots level, hiring an urban drone team to perform a survey for a remotely placed tiny field is prohibitively expensive. Furthermore, the farmers should be educated in drone operation and encouraged to join a cooperative company and own the drones, similar to the custom of agricultural equipment. But the small and medium-scale farmers are hesitant to employ drones due to the high expense associated while acquiring them.

Aside from cost and technological knowledge, a scarcity of qualified pilots is a key challenge to the growth of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) industry in India.

Rules and regulations for the applicability of Drones in India:

The Indian government issued a drone policy in December 2018, allowing the use of drones for a variety of purposes which included infrastructural projects and following are the new rules set by the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA), 2021 for utilising drones:

  1. These approvals have been eliminated: unique authorisation number, unique prototype identification number, certificate of conformance, certificate of maintenance, operator permits, R&D organisation authorisation, student remote pilot licence, remote pilot instructor authorisation, drone port authorisation, and drone component import permission.

  2. Under the Drone Rules, 2021, drone coverage was raised from 300 kg to 500 kg to accommodate drones that carry large payloads and drone taxis.

  3. From 25 to 5, the number of forms/permissions was decreased from 25 to 5.

  4. There is no need for security clearance before registering or obtaining a licence.

  5. Permission fees have been lowered to minimal amounts.

  6. The maximum punishment under the Drone Rules has been lowered to INR 1 lakh as of 2021. However, this does not apply to fines for violations of other laws.

  7. On the digital sky platform, an interactive airspace map featuring green, yellow and red zones will be shown.

  8. The yellow zone around the airport has been decreased from 45 km to 12 km.

  9. Operating a drone in green zones and up to 200 feet in the area between 8 and 12 kilometres from the airport boundary requires no permit.

  10. All drones will be registered online using the Digital Sky Platform.

  11. Drones may be transferred and deregistered using a simple method.

  12. A simple possibility for the regularisation of current drones in the nation was offered.

  13. Operating nano and micro drones for non-commercial purposes does not require a pilot's licence.

  14. No permission - no take-off (NPNT), real-time tracking beacon, geo-fencing, and other safety measures will be alerted in the future. Compliance will be given at least a six-month advance time.

  15. An authorised drone school will provide all drone training and examinations. The DGCA will establish training standards, regulate drone schools, and issue pilot licences through the internet.

  16. Drone type certification has been entrusted to the Quality Council of India and its authorised certification bodies.

  17. For R&D organisations, there is no need for a type certificate, a unique identification number, previous approval, or a remote pilot licence.

  18. The DGFT will control drone imports.

  19. For freight delivery, drone routes will be created.

  20. To promote a business-friendly regulatory framework, the UAS Promotion Council will be established.

Drone companies providing assistance in agriculture:

As far the emergence of new startups, these are the few drone companies that are currently functioning to boost the agricultural sector:

  • GEN DRONES: Aims to disrupt various sectors with the Next-Generation drone technologies which include the agricultural sector.

  • Atmos UAV: Land and construction surveying, forestry protection, open-pit mining, and precision agriculture are a few of the applications for drones.

  • Gamaya: Provides advanced solutions for mapping and diagnosing farmland to increase the productivity and scalability of small-scale farming.

  • Delair: Specialises in providing solutions for a wide range of industries, including mining, agriculture, geomatics, etc.

  • HummingBird Technologies: Provides drones with custom sensors, as well as a satellite that are used to collect data and imagery for precision agriculture.

  • BioCarbon Engineering: The drone technology surveys the environment and disperse seeds at a high rate across large areas.

  • PAINTEC SL: Collects data using a variety of sensors before processing and converting it to deliver highly valuable information and some of its applications include precision agriculture, topography.

  • Aerobotics: Provides AI-assisted pest detection, drone imagery services, disease detection, orchard and yield management, among other services.

  • XAG: Provide drones to small businesses that spray pesticides for individual farmers.

  • AGRISPRAY Drones: Helps farmers and landowners use UAVs in liquid and granular applications for a variety of agricultural production and land management applications.

The involvement of drones will thus result in agricultural productivity improvement. Furthermore, acceptance of software solutions for data analysis and field surveys are some of the other factors propelling the market for agriculture drone companies forward in India.

  • THANOS: Provides spraying drones for manual spraying of chemicals and fertilizers.

  • Pigeon Innovative: UAVs/Drones equipped with NIR (Near Infrared) sensors/multispectral cameras to assist in post-processing and providing smart farming solutions.

  • Drone Nation: Provide a combined platform of consultancy, data acquisition, and processing for land survey & mapping, solar PV plant survey, power transmission & distribution lines, wind turbines, roads & railways, construction engineering, industrial inspections, slum mapping, and IT services using drones.

Challenges in adopting drones in agriculture:

  • Drones in agriculture have limitations in addition to their benefits. The drones have limited flight duration which ranges from 20 - 60 minutes due to heavy payloads and this results in covering less land.

  • Agricultural drones used for surveying have fixed wings which can cost up to $25000 depending on the features and sensors. Aside from the sensors and functions incorporated, the initial cost is related to the payload and flight length capacity.

  • In most of the arable farms, internet connectivity is not available. Under such circumstances, the farmers need to invest in connectivity or purchase a drone that can store data locally in a format that can be transferred and processed later.

  • Drones, unlike regular aircraft, are difficult to fly in windy or wet circumstances as they get affected by the weather.

  • The images acquired by drones require specific skills and knowledge to transform into usable information, which an average farmer lacks. In these cases, the farmer must either learn the skills and understanding of image processing software or employ trained individuals who are familiar with the software.

  • There is a risk of misuse of people's privacy and transmission of information illegally.

The applicability of drone technology in agriculture will enhance the productivity of crops with effective and adaptive techniques, help in fast decision making, promote less use of resources and also create viable job opportunities. Thus, our farmers and drone pilots are the forerunners of a new agriculture age. Overall, it will be really fascinating to see how things progress and how beneficial drone applications prove to be over time in India.

About Global Launch Base:

The Indian Agri-Tech industry is expected to grow exponentially to over $30 Billion by 2025. Global Launch Base specializes in bringing high tech innovation for Agri-Tech and Conservation into the Indian Market.

Our expertise includes working with high tech European Agri-Tech companies and working with the local farmers and actually managing our own farms!. We look forward to helping you navigate the vastly different but vibrant Indian Agricultural markets.

  • Agri-Tech Innovations

  • Forest/ Wildlife Conservation

  • Food Waste Reduction

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