Mzansi Agriculture Talk

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Zimbabwean farmers look to drone technology

It was in 2016 when President Thabo Mbeki, at a packed farmer gathering in Western Cape, remarked that Zimbabweans had a very different attitude to land.

Piwai Chikasha, a young Zimbabwean Aeronautical Engineer is proof of this testament. He is behind Alley Capital Group, one of the first black owned companies in the SADC region to offer specialised drone-based crop spraying services.

“We are, at the moment, the only official drone crop spraying service provider in Zimbabwe. Through our work, it is our hope that drones for crop spraying will in time become the preferred solution” said Chikasha.

By late June 2019, Chikasha and his team conducted successful trials in three horticultural farmers in the Goromonzi district.

According to Chikasha’s calculations, the drone sprayer saved one farmer excess of 120 litres of chemicals per hectare per year providing millilitre accuracy and control with each litre of chemical used.’

“In lettuce and cabbage spraying, we established that where a farmer used to spray 75 litres of solution per hectare using a tractor with boom sprayer, a drone operator would need 20 litres of solution at higher concentration, but with 5% less pesticide per hectare.”

The younger generation of farmers in Zimbabwe were paying attention to this phenomenon ever drawing and consulting Alley Capital Group. “Our drones are more accurate, saving a farmer money and increasing productivity. Farmers had welcomed the efficiency and effectiveness presented by drone technology” added Chikasha.

For South Africa, enthusiasm for use of drones for agricultural purposes subsided after the first spray drone license was issued in late 2019 by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

This had to do with the application process, castigated as a tedious process. Defined by CAA as “Remotely piloted aircraft” (RPAS) unmannered aircraft, it had to be registered first, evaluated and approved by the Director only if the ‘applicant complies with all prescribed requirements.’

Startling was that a drone license was only valid for 12 months in South Africa after which it must be re-registered.

Since the CAA had managed to approve a number of drone training schools, commercial farmers stood to benefit in acquiring skills in basic aerial vegetation assessments.

Chikasha said in Zimbabwe’s case, Agricultural Colleges were key in introducing drone lessons to smallholder farmers.

Since CAA issued drone spray licenses, provincial departments of agriculture and municipalities have remained silent on the use of this technology for smallholder farmers except for the Western Cape Department of Agriculture. 

Additional source; Africa Goes Digital

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