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CGIAR and Tanzania Flying Labs Learn How to Fly Together

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September 10th, 2018

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The end of August has proven to be an exciting chapter for our Tanzania Flying Labs, with a 3-day “Drones for Agriculture” Course organized in Zanzibar on August 20-22 in collaboration with CGIAR, CGIAR CSI and IFPRI, followed by a “Drones for Agriculture Knowledge Sharing Day" on August 24 in Dar es Salaam. Both events expectedly bore fruit, for they were true to our mission to build local capacity and transfer best practices around new technology for social good.

Ten professionals from five CGIAR Centres (ICRISATIFPRIICRAFCIMMYT and IITA) immersed themselves during 3 days on how to pilot multi-copter and fixed-wing drones in autonomous missions, working with both RGB and multispectral sensors. Thanks to our partner Pix4D, trainees also learned how to process data in an easy and extremely fast way to create vegetation indexes and orthomosaics, both in class and directly in the field, learning all about their latest software solution Pix4Dfields, addressing the specific needs of drone data for agriculture.

However, as highlighted in a recent CGIAR’s blog on our shared experience in Tanzania, while the promise of drone technology is exciting and real, there still remain open questions about the need for standardization, the integration of algorithms to detect more sophisticated information on crops, the burden of collateral costs linked to training and insurance, and lastly, the cry for a more efficient way to stream massive amounts of data. Some of these pressing issues were specifically addressed during the following “Drones for Agriculture Knowledge Sharing Day" – a gathering that allowed to reflect on the role of drone technology and data analysis in agriculture.

Divided in two sessions, the workshop focused on existing and potential applications, opening more innovative solutions to appease the above-mentioned concerns, transcending from more common mapping uses:

  • Identifying crop variety (i.e. leaf patterns, heights)
  • Identifying patterns for yield estimations and growth stage
  • Inspection and monitoring of change in the environment
  • Monitoring and understanding the influence of distress on farms (i.e. floods)
  • Identifying the size of farm plots

In view of this growing need for more complex information yet accessible solutions, we need to understand not only the trade-off between satellite and drone imagery, but also how we can influence the adoption of drone technology. The second session of the Knowledge Sharing Day therefore aimed at identifying the current challenges and how to address them:

  • Challenges we can directly impact (i.e. education on drones, engaging communities, training, shared knowledge on data acquisition, local repair centers for immediate assistance). These challenges may be solved with the support of our Flying Labs (where present) or CGIAR’s research on how to integrate various data sources;
  • Challenges we can indirectly impact (i.e. demonstrating results’ impact on development, favourable regulations, set drone standards). These challenges may be solved by creating case studies, best practices and drive lobbying campaigns;
  • Challenges we can’t impact (i.e. weather, high capital device costs, scaling). These challenges may be solved with the help of a consortium, open source technology and more affordable drones.

We would like to thank our partners CGIAR, CGIAR CSI, IFPRI, and Pix4D and congratulate all of the attendees of the “Drones for Agriculture” series on having shared this enriching experience with us.

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