Aerobotics: Supporting precision agriculture across Africa

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Aerobotics are one of a number of companies incorporating the use of unmanned drones to promote crop pest and disease management (© Pexels)

Aerobotics, a Cape Town-based agritech startup company has recently partnered with the South African Federation of Agricultural Organisations (AgriSA) to launch a free data service for farmers using a range of spectral imaging technology.

As a company, Aerobotics specialises in farm monitoring processes using a number of modern spectral imaging technologies, including satellite and drone aerial imaging as well as incorporating AI technology to target crop pest and disease management.

In April 2019, Aerobotics launched a new data capturing app called Aeroview InFields in partnership with AgriSA. The app incorporates multiple data monitoring methods to provide an ‘all-in-one’ data capturing app for both Android and IOS mobile devices. The primary aim of the app is to support farmers with ongoing crop pest and disease control and management practices in the field.

Using a free version of the app, farmers can access personalized views of their land using both the app and a desktop online platform, which will allow them to monitor potentially hectares of land from a single computer/device.

Aerobotics COO Tim Willis described the service as “Google maps for farmland”.

The new app provides farm managers with the resources to scope out field scouting routes and assign them to team members, with such individuals being able to pinpoint identified issues in the field using GPS coordinates for future targeted management practices. In terms of field management, precision agriculture is an exciting up-and-coming sector in which the use of tools such as drones and earth observation satellite data can help users potentially identify specific areas of a field which may be suffering from environmental stresses such as drought or even biotic factors such as pest infestations and diseases. To support the field scouting area of the service, another new feature of the app, the chlorophyll map will be especially useful. This mapping feature can identify and visualise areas of an image, i.e. a field, which are displaying varying levels of chlorophyll in the crop leaves. This can be a direct indication of disease presence, such as root rot in crop plantations.

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Plantations generally cover large areas of land and a labour intensive in terms of managing crops from pests and diseases. InFields is aimed to reduce this labour cost and support farmers (© Pexels)

The app can also be used to control drones, enabling farmers to obtain 650-degree images of individual crops if needed. The successful applications of this feature in the field will be coupled with future developments to the service such as a yield management tool.

Aerobotics currently offers its online platform and mobile services to 18 countries, including Germany, France, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The South African company is also looking at expanding its global coverage following the successful implementation of its tools by non-South African farmers. The app itself is currently available in English and Afrikaans but will soon be in Spanish, Italian, French and Portuguese.

Describing South African farmers as early adopters of agritech solutions, Tim Willis said, “Globally, about a thousand farmers are already using the application in 10 countries around the world, the majority of these are South Africans. Farmers are losing between 20-40% of their annual yield to pest and disease. The service will encourage farmers to spend less time scouting and using technology to pinpoint areas in the field and sort it out as quickly as possible, ensuring higher yield and productivity.”

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