Beninese drone start-up pressing ahead with precision agric solutions

Beninese drone services start-up, Global Partners Sarl is forging ahead with its efforts to bring small holder farmers into the 21st century through precision agriculture services centred around drone technology.

With the help of Belgian development agency Enabel, the precision agriculture start-up is engaging farmers involved with various crop products that include rice, cotton, cashew nuts and pine apples, with a view to convince them to adopt new farming technologies that will boost agricultural production in the country.

Enabel says it is a development agency that works to “execute Belgium’s international development policy, which focuses on inclusive economic growth, human rights and in particular women’s and children’s rights, digitisation and the least developed countries. We work for a sustainable world where women and men live under the rule of law and are free to thrive.”

The organisation’s solutions also extend to addressing pressing global challenges like climate change, urbanisation, migration, peace and security, economic and social inequality, and global citizenship in twenty countries in Africa and the Middle East.

Which will be a little wonder then, why they are working with Global Partners to help farmers with precision agriculture solutions that reduce the impact of climate change in Benin.

“At Global Partners, we believe technologies such as drones can be the solution (to climate change),” the start-up says. “One of our software solutions is to use drone technology and artificial intelligence to help pineapple farmers better manage their crops. The software is a decision support tool that provides each farmer with a diagnostic of his farm and gives recommendations throughout the crop cycle.”

Dr Abdelaziz Lawani, an assistant professor of agribusiness, data science and Unmanned Aerial Systems at Eastern Kentucky University in the USA, who founded Global Partners said his start-up’s work with Enabel will see drone technology helping deliver almost real-time precision agriculture solutions to small-scale farmers in Benin.

“Thanks to this solution, farmers are able to plan their pineapple production better; pinpoint crops under stress and predict whether they need fertilizers or pesticide application, Dr Lawani said.

“It also helps identify flowering: the pineapple fruit comes from the flowers, so it is important for farmers to identify the plants that have flowered and separate them from those that have not yet flowered, in order to induce the flowering (hormonal induction).

“This helps increase yield and reduces the crop cycle (the pineapple cycle usually takes seven months), allowing farmers to plant other crops with low cycles (corn, beans, etc.) which means more income for the farmer.”

Dr Lawani added that using drones and artificial intelligence also helps farmers predict, identify and count the number of fruits allowing farmers to anticipate their harvest and make the necessary investments in their production but also in their family: education, nutrition, and health.

Global Partners has been working with Enabel in Benin since 2017 on pilot agriculture drone projects that include viability assessment of drone services to smallholder cotton and rice farming, as well as comparative studies of drone-based and manual crop spraying.

“We equipped extension workers with drones generated data that deliver innovative, location specific and real time advice to farmers and examine farmers’ willingness to adopt the technology, to pay for it and the impact of the technology on their productivity, income and livelihoods,” the start-up said recently. “When comparing the performance of a spraying drone with the performance of an operator using a backpack manual sprayer, we found that drone was more efficient, more accurate, cheaper, saved time and had a reduced negative impact on the environment.”

Some 80 percent of Benin’s 10.3 million citizens earn a living from agriculture, with most of them being subsistence farmers whose fields have been affected by climate change, limited access to inputs and agriculture extension services.


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