IAP: Changing precision agriculture through drone technology in Nigeria
One of the biggest reasons why drone technology has been quick to take root in Africa has been the maximum and quick gains garnered at a fraction of the cost it might have taken if users had taken the normal industrialisation route the first world has gone through.
There are rural and remote parts of the communities that would need to commit millions of dollars to infrastructure building first before accessing regular access to medical supplies – medical drones have come and reduced that required to a matter of only the availability of the needed medicines and a small landing zone for the drone at its various destination (other drone logistics suppliers like Zipline don’t even need a landing zone).
Not that we are saying Africa does not need industrial development. It does. But the advent of drone technology in various industrial applications might help the continent cover some of its industrial needs at a faster pace.
Take agricultural drone technology for example; and take the example of small holder farmers in Benin who previously had to watch helpless as their crops suffered because the farmers could not afford crop spraying services and other precision agriculture technology that they are now getting from drone services company, Global Partners.
The farmers do not event have to own the drones; all they have to do is pay for the services they get from the supplier, and they can keep their crops health from germination until the time of harvesting.
Such kind of service is something that Integrated Aerial Precision (IAP) – the agricultural industry-focused drone technology and data analytics service enterprise in Nigeria – is aspiring to provide in the West African country.
The start-up provides farmers with aerial intelligence and actions that empower them to do smart and precision-driven Agriculture leveraging drone technology and the power of data they generate. Using drones fitted with sensors, the start-up helps farmers scout their fields for early pest and disease detection; and also offers spraying services using its aerial drones.
IAP CEO Femi Adekoya hopes his start-up will help Nigerian farmers access this transformative technology. An agricultural expert with more than a decade of experience, Femi holds a BSc in Agriculture from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, and an MSc in Integrated Pest Management from Harper Adams University in the United Kingdom.
While in the UK, Femi also acquired a commercial drone operator’s license, and has several ideas about how drone technology can help small scale farmers.
This he wants to do through IAP and Agridec Ltd, an agricultural value chain and consultancy firm that trains youths and women in climate-smart agricultural technologies and techniques to increase farmer productivity.
Femi recently sat down with Ventures Africa for the below interview.
Have you always had an interest in agriculture?
I have always had a passion for agriculture since my teenage years. When every kid wanted to study engineering or medicine, I wanted to study agriculture. I chose agriculture because I saw the potential it has, the potential for economic empowerment. My little self and innocent mind saw planting a maize seed as a good investment that generates hundreds of yields in a few weeks. This thought ignited my quest for knowledge in the agricultural field.
Why drone technology?
From my background, you would understand I am a practitioner. The motivation behind playing in the space is that I have defined my career objective. I wanted to be an astute professional contributing to food security, both locally and globally, which can be achievable through technological innovation.
You also need proven scientific knowledge of statistics and figures gotten through data to amplify the transformation. So you would always see me at the interception of both. I am usually open to innovation and learning to deliver my objective in the context of a sustainable environment.
I got the opportunity to be trained and certified as a commercial drone pilot, and I am now combining that expertise with data analytics in agriculture.
How do drones work for smallholder farmers?
We provide small- or large-scale farmers with aerial intelligence and actions that empower them to practise smart, decision-driven agriculture, leveraging drone technology and generated data. Beyond that, we generate insight for farmers by turning this drone data into information that empowers them.
We use drone technology to deliver solutions and perform automated tasks in the field. We help farmers access their farms and identify their heterogeneity. With drone technology, they can discover where crop nutrients are lacking, where pests and disease hotspots are located; and understand the overall state of their crops.
These actions lead to better productivity and improved profitability. Our drones spray pesticide, fertilizer, fungicide, or organic matter.
What are some challenges you face in the course of your service?
Generally speaking, business is not perfect globally, but it can get quite tedious in Africa. Integrated Aerial Precision is the first of its kind in Nigeria as a drone enterprise focused on agriculture. We are a subject matter in agriculture, and we are using the drone as a tool for an agricultural solution.
Since what we do is relatively new, awareness is low. You’d agree that awareness determines adoption. This extends beyond users/farmers to regulatory agencies whose policies limit what we can do.
Like any other business, finance can be a challenge because it is capital intensive. It is not just about the software but the hardware combined. Another challenge would be education and the lack of local content. We are improving in that aspect regarding our efforts to produce or locally assemble our sprayer drones. It is still a challenge, but we are evolving.
Expertise in the landscape is also a crucial challenge. For instance, the booming fintech space is so because there are lots of tech-savvy guys in the ecosystem. We are trying to put things in place as pioneers in the industry. One of the prices we have to pay as pioneers is that we have to train people so that we would be able to deliver the right solutions. These are a few of the challenges we face.
You seem to prioritise women and youths with Agridec. Why?
Women in agriculture are critical because they play a frontline and salient role from agricultural production to the end of the value chain. Their contribution to the food system from the field to the fork is critical, so that is why we are interested in them.
On the part of the youths, they are not averse to careers in agriculture as people often believe. What we should ask is the kind of agriculture youths are averse to. You won’t find them in traditional drudgery driven agriculture because there are easier ways of doing things now. Now, we talk about smart, data-driven, intellectual and productive agriculture. You will notice youths are happy to contribute and identify with this kind of agriculture.
I can see the surge and interest when I speak with youths and engage with them. So we focus on how to get a future out of this for them. They should be able to compare themselves with a doctor and not feel disadvantaged in engaging in agriculture.
With the adverse effects of climate change, what climate-smart techniques do you tell people to imbibe?
Climate change negatively impacts agriculture. There are a series of climate-smart techniques that we advise to be adopted.
Drip irrigation systems can work in places where climate change affects water availability. With drone technology, you can be climate smart with the information and data insights provided.
There are also climate service products like weather information that can help you to be able to adapt to the effects of climate.
With drone technology, you can access and know your land, like identifying its elevation and knowing if it is vulnerable to flooding. You should also be aware of fertilizer application in correct proportions because it helps mitigate the hazardous pollutants associated with industrial agriculture, helps the environment and helps in the fight against climate change.
That leads to sustainable consumption and production, which is an SDG goal. Our sprayer drones are environmentally friendly because they are battery-driven and more or less do not contribute to the impact of climate change. This contrasts with the conventional tractor method which needs expensive fuel that depletes the ozone layer.
We are delivering solutions that are climate-friendly. That is some of the ways we contribute to climate-smart agriculture.
What is the future of drone technology in African agriculture?
In short, it is going to impact every aspect of the industry.
The future of drones will undoubtedly influence the future of work. Drone technology has a lot to do if agriculture remains the sole source of our food. To increase food production and farmers’ profitability and deliver on the promise of food security, we will see a lot of automation.
Drones are still evolving. The type of data we can collect from a drone and how we can transform these data into actionable insight to improve productivity is still untapped. We are still working on the integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning. There is a lot to explore, and this is why IAP is at the core of drone technology in agriculture.
How would you describe your impact, and what are the plans for the future?
Through our engagements with Drones in Agriculture, we have introduced over five thousand agricultural technology enthusiasts to the realities and goodness of Drones in Agriculture.
I have also trained and built the competence of close to 50 drone enthusiasts in piloting, many of whom now use the skills to make positive changes in various industries and positively impact the future of work. We want to transform and revolutionise agriculture to be able to deliver on the promise of food security and a resilient food system. We want to spread across various parts of Africa with our drone technology solutions in a few years.