XAG’s sustainable drones rewarded at Reuters awards ceremony

Drone technology’s commitment to sustainable and environmentally friendly operations received major recognition this week when Chinese drone maker XAG walked away with the Sustainability Innovation gong at the Reuters Events Responsible Business Awards 2020, for its sustainable farming solutions in rural areas.

Now in their eleventh year and recognised by reputable businesses worldwide; the Reuters Events Responsible Business Awards celebrate leadership in sustainable business by, according to the organiser, awarding business organisation whose principles of operation promote sustainability in the societies and environments in their vicinity. Past winners include industry and technology giants, such as Unilever, IKEA, Intel, Mastercard, Coca-Cola, Goldman Sachs and UPS, which got recognition for their innovative strategies in pushing forward the boundary of corporate responsibility and sustainability.

This year’s award ceremony attracted more than 3,000 virtual attendants over two days, and XAG’s torch shone brightest in one of the thirteen categories that business competed in. The company was named a winner of the Sustainability Innovation category with its unremitting efforts to scale up agricultural drones, robots, Internet-of-things, and artificial intelligence in rural areas of developing countries. As food insecurity is aggravated in the wake of COVID-19, XAG claims unmanned technologies have been leveraged to shape the future of smart farms by addressing rural ageing crisis and loss of biodiversity.

The edged out heavy competition from British standards certification organisation BSi; American food company Kraft Heinz; Danish shipping company, Maersk; Italian tree planting corporation, Treedom; American parcel delivery company UPS (which is also adopting drone technology in its operations); motorsport conglomerate, Formula 1, which received special mention from the judges; and Singaporean IT hardware management company TES, which also received special commendation.

XAG also says it got recognition for its commitment to empowering smallholder farmers with smart agricultural technology that improves crop yields with less environmental footprint on the planet; achieved through the three core pillars of XAG’s smart agriculture – collaboration with local authorities, development of smart precision agriculture equipment; and integration of Artificial Intelligence, cloud computing and Internet of Things and big data into the precision agriculture value chain.

“A clear winner, the judges were impressed by this innovative and scalable project,” the organisers said in a statement. “XAG are an excellent example of how to use technology to ensure social and environmental impact. This is an excellent example of utilising technologies to drive social, environmental impacts which have been demonstrated immediately, particularly in the developing part of this world.”

The judges, however, encouraged the company and agriculture technology in general to consider future risks on labour when these solutions are scaled to millions of farmers worldwide.

“Since the transition from drone maker to agriculture technology innovator in 2013, XAG has managed to introduce over 50,000 unmanned farming devices across 42 countries and regions,” the company said in a statement. “A wide range of drone operations involving precision agriculture practices, from sowing seeds and spreading fertilisers to crop spraying and field monitoring, have been delivered to 8.72 million farmers on 40 million hectares of farmlands.

“XAG’s agriculture technology scale-up actions were initiated under the challenge that, with less workers to farm and no more arable land to exploit, the global food system will be struggling to feed the world’s whopping 10 billion people by 2050. Small and midsized farms are the major forces of food production in most developing countries; however, they still depend on manpower to grow crops and usually apply an overdose of pesticides due to lack of smart tools. Large ground equipment cannot be adopted in these areas because of the varied terrains, smaller size of land and high cost.”

The company highlighted its work with the rice paddies on the Honghe Hani Rice Terraces in Yunnan Province, China – which have been listed as a UNIESCO World Heritage Site since 2013 – where the aging population has seen agricultural activity worryingly declining.

“Since March 2020, XAG has galvanised a team of young professionals to bring its autonomous agricultural drones to cope with the rugged, irregular terrains where the red rice is grown,” the company said. “The rice terraces cascade down the steep slopes of the towering mountains, which at its narrowest point is less than one metre that traditional agricultural machinery was unable to reach. Since more and more youngsters are leaving the villages to seek better jobs in cities, elderly farmers form the backbone of the manual labour to cultivate the rice terraces.

“Instead of putting people within the fields, XAG deployed its terrain-adaptive drones to release seeds and spray chemicals accurately over the pre-programmed route. This was the first-of-its-kind drone operations of direct rice seeding and spraying in the areas of Honghe Hani Rice terraces, unshackling the Hani people from labour-intensive fieldworks.”

XAG were also nominated for the Social Impact award, which was won by American telecommunication company, Verizon.

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