A startup in Ghana is helping to address some of the challenges that farmers face by using drone technology. The company called Acquahmeyer rents out drones that help small-scale farmers check the health of crops and use pesticide only where it is needed, reducing pollution and health risks.
Although a large portion of Africa′s population especially in rural areas are engaged in agriculture, many barriers prevent them from scaling-up production, increasing their income and improving their standard of living. Most farmers lack access to infrastructure like roads and railway to transport their produce. Many live in rural areas without electricity and are unable to store perishables resulting in huge losses. There is generally insufficient machine and equipment for farming and agro-processing.
Farm extension workers are largely unavailable to provide support to rural farmers. Thus, many of them rely on outdated farming practices as well as simple tool that are unable to meet the agricultural needs in our fast-changing world. The lack of investment in the sector and difficulty in accessing finance leaves the mostly small-scale farms struggling to feed a growing population.
Acquahmeyer Drones to the rescue
In the past, without access to data or support, farmers applied pesticides, fertilizer and other chemicals to every crop on their farms often in excess of what is required.
“Ghanaian vegetables were not making it to the EU countries because of pesticide residues on the fruit and vegetables,” says chief operations officer Kenneth A. Nelson.
Founded by Eric Acquah in 2016, Acquahmeyer′s drones help the farmers identify pests and disease to determine exactly which crops need spraying. This results in the reduced use of chemicals which is good for human and animal health, as well as for the environment. The farmers also save money by spending less on pesticides.
Acquahmeyer provides total crop pest management using the spraying drone for precision agriculture. Its drone technology is changing agriculture in Africa by reducing the cost of herbicide, insecticide, pesticides, fungicide, and fertilizer application. It also saves a lot of time and increases yields. Its scare crow drone drives away birds that eat seeds and produce thereby reducing harvest. Farmers can access their services with just a click of a button on their phones.
The company now supports about 8,000 farmers who pay between $5 to $10 per acre, about 6 times a year, to assess their crops and soil and apply pesticides. Eachdrone costs $5,000 to $15,000 to build and can spray 10,000 acres a year.
Drone services offer a lot of benefits to farmers. In the past, many farmers suffered snakes and scorpion bites while others get exposed to harmful chemicals while applying them manually. The old practice also resulted in contamination of water bodies due to excessive application of the chemicals. However, with drones, only the affected crops are sprayed while the operator can stand miles away. Also, the drones are fitted with multispectral cameras that collects data on soil stress level, soil moisture, crop diseases, and growth patterns for harvest and soil analysis.
When the company commenced operations in 2018, it had only 2 drones. Now it has up to 10 drones supporting farmers. The company makes an annual profit of $15,000 to $30,000 per drone, after operations and administration costs. With over 15 million hectares (37 million acres) of agricultural land in Ghana, demand for drones is only growing, says Nelson.
The company also has a strategy of training locals to pilot and repair the drones to help fuel interest in the company and its growth. In each farming community, the company ambassadors are the pilots and they are helping to create jobs for them.
“We want to make sure that technology and agriculture becomes an exciting job.”Kenneth A. Nelson
As a result of the reduced use of chemicals, it is now easier for farmers to meet EU regulatory limits and export their produce. In some cases, pesticide use dropped by up to 50 percent as a result of the use of drones.
Thanks to drone technology, farmers are improving their agricultural yield and the environment is healthier for it. Now that is what is called a win-win!
What other challenges are you using drones and technology to solve?