Green Revolution 2.0: Drones accelerating the dynamics of India’s farmlands

Coming in all shapes and sizes, the tiny flying machines have become a crucial agent for the rapid transformation of the agriculture sector

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New Delhi: The critical role played by the drones came to the fore in 2020 when these were used to ward off locus attacks, saving millions of hectares of farmland. Farmers got the first-hand experience in operating drones and their usefulness such as testing the moisture of soil, which is not possible through traditional ways.
The use of drones is a key component of the central government’s mission of promoting digital agriculture to strengthen the farming sector. State governments too are adopting it with vigour as they are experimenting with drones in farming and promoting their use.
There are reports that drone-led precision farming can reduce input cost by 18-20 percent while enhancing yield by 30-100 percent in India. Drones have shown they can be beneficial in planting seeds in the Indo-Gangetic plains, where the rice-wheat cropping system is prevalent.
Farmers can make crop surveillance of the field using infrared cameras and get real-time information about crop growth, infestation, and requirement of inputs. This helps farmers in responding to any problem sooner and take active measures to nip it in the bud. Applications of drones can also be used for mapping water spread areas, pest infestation, and livestock farming besides assisting farmers in adopting good agricultural practices (GAP). Crops can be contamination-free, making them get good export prices.
As per reports, farmers in the US, who grew corn, soybean and wheat could save around USD 1.3 billion every year by incorporating drones in their farm operations.
The use of drone in agriculture  is helpful  to farmers as it have some distinct advantages such as high field capacity and efficiency, less turnaround time and other field operational delays, wastage reduction of pesticide and fertilizers due to high degree of atomization, water saving due to ultra-low volume spraying technology in comparison to traditional spraying methods, reduction in cost of spraying and fertilizer application  in comparison to conventional methods etc. besides reduction of human exposure to hazardous chemicals.
A few case studies
For the first time in the world, Indian Immunologicals Limited became a part of the history of transporting animal vaccines through the use of drones. The Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying, Government of India, Dept of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, Government of Arunachal Pradesh, along with IIL and drone service provider came together for the maiden drone flight from Roing to Paghlam in Arunachal Pradesh. Drone delivery of vaccines is expected to not only reach remote difficult terrains faster but also help in providing critical vaccines on time for the protection of livestock from several diseases.
Dr K Anand Kumar, Managing Director, Indian Immunologicals Limited, expressed great hope for further technological intervention in making vaccines available to remote locations in the country. “With this, IIL has amply demonstrated the delivery of medicines from the sky.”
Recently India’s largest and most valuable drone startup, Garuda Aerospace participated in World Economic Forum 2023 to present the first-ever carbon-neutral drone at the Indian Sustainability Lounge, Davos. The company will manufacture over 25,000 drones in the next 15 months.
Agnishwar Jayaprakash said, “It’s such a privilege to present Garuda Aerospace DGCA approved Made in India Carbon Neutral Drones and the ESG goal of impacting 1 billion Indians positively through Drone Technology at DAVOS 2023 hosted by World Economic Forum. Representing Tamil Nadu, It’s an immense honor to share my experience with Industry stalwarts, Global political leaders, and Policymakers. I spoke at an impactful panel discussion and highlighted progressive government policies and how the startup community is transforming India into a Global Drone Hub by 2030.”
Founded in 2016 by Amandeep Panwar and Rishabh Choudhary, Delhi-based BharatRohan Airborne Innovations provides drone-based advisory services to nearly 6,000 farmers across 20,000 acres in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. It offers a technology-enabled end-to-end decision support system to optimise input usage, minimise crop losses, and maximise profit margins by facilitating crop advisory services with its UAV/drone-based hyperspectral imagery.  The agritech startup currently provides drone-based advisory services to nearly 6,000 farmers in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan – of which almost 20 percent purchase agri-inputs from the company.
The agriculture green revolution 2.0 began after Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged off 100 Kisan drones in 100 villages across India.
Artificial Intelligence enabled drones are used for precision farming that increases productivity and thus farm income. Drones have multi-faceted uses. They make farm operations faster and more efficient. They also help farmers to save significant money by making optimum use of fertilisers and pesticides and by ensuring uniform sowing of seeds. Spraying chemicals is a time-consuming process and it poses a health hazard.  Drones can fly at low height (1-3 metre) over the crops, which make the spraying of nutrients and pesticides effective and efficient, as well as allow farmers to assess standing crops through cameras. All this not just facilitates higher productivity but also brings down the expenses on crop inputs.
Checks and Balances
Looking into the advantages of drone technologies in agriculture, the Department of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare has released the Standard Operating Procedures which provide concise instructions for effective and safe operations of drones for pesticide and nutrient application.  The Central Insecticides Board & Registration Committee has prescribed the guidelines/protocols for registration requirements of pesticides for drone application.  It has also finalized the test protocols for phyto-toxicity evaluation and for bio-efficacy evaluation of pesticide formulation.
Scientific studies are carried out and data supporting the drone application are generated. Pilot studies with different approaches like use of remote sensing technology including satellite data and drone based images especially for crop cutting experiments planning, direct yield estimation at Gram Panchayat level, risk mapping of district and for area discrepancy resolution have been conducted through Mahalanobis National Crop Forecasting Centre (MNCFC).
Increasing support from government
The agriculture green revolution 2.0 began after Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged off 100 Kisan drones in 100 villages across India and this led to the creation of job opportunities for youth across India. Government support and encouragement for drones was evident when the Prime Minister of India inaugurated India’s biggest Drone Festival – Bharat Drone Mahotsav in May 2022.
The Prime Minister called the use of drones a milestone for Indian agriculture and expressed confidence it would create more opportunities. The government of India has extended huge subsidies to different agriculture-related instructors, farmers producers organisations (FPO) and custom hiring centres (CHC) for purchasing and promoting drones under a new scheme of Kisan Drone. These drones are helpful for government agencies also as they can be used for crop assessment of production estimates or to process farm insurance, digitisation of land records, and can expedite claim processing and bring transparency.
Funds amounting to Rs 52.50 Crores have been released to the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) for taking up of large scale demonstration of drone technology on the farmers’ fields in the country through 100 Kishi Vigyan Kendras, 75 institutions under ICAR and 25 State Agricultural Universities. Funds amounting to Rs. 70.88 Crores have also been released to various State Governments for demonstration, providing subsidy to the farmers and establishment of Custom Hiring Centres for providing drone services to the farmers. This information was given by the Union Minister of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, Narendra Singh Tomar in the Parliament.
Many state governments have started adopting drones at ground level. For example, Andhra Pradesh government has decided to procure 200 Kisan Drones, which would solve the problem of labour shortage and health hazards.  As excessive rains flooded farms, Karnataka has decided to use drones for crop assessment to bring transparency.  Tamil Nadu too has roped in drones as a part of the digital intervention to make agriculture and farming profitable and sustainable. Gujarat and Rajasthan too, are launching similar initiatives.
The involvement of agri start-ups, FPOs and CHCs in drone technology will allow farmers especially those financially poor to try new technological solutions. As drones become affordable and easily accessible, more and more farmers will start using them. Moreover, drones can create employment opportunities in rural parts, especially for the tech-savvy youth and bring them back to farms.