Agriculturists and industry experts have anticipated that Indian agriculture sector would register tremendous with the spraying of agrochemicals through drones. The experts were speaking at a round-table organised by ThinkAg in association with CropLife India, the leading association of plant science industry in India. The round-table ’Drone Applications in Agriculture – Agrochemical Spraying Conducive Ecosystem Development’ brought together stakeholders of the agricultural drone ecosystem with exchange of actual on-ground learnings and stressed on the need for fast-tracking and large scale adoption of drone technology for agrochemical spraying in the country.
Dr. Ravi Prakash, Plant Protection Adviser, Directorate, Plant Protection, Quarantine & Storage, Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare, Government of India said, “Drone deployment for agrochemical spraying although new in India but imminent for crop protection, is affordable for farmers, helps in superior produce, and a major tool for food security in the country. The DGCA, Agriculture Ministry and CIB&RC are working jointly to fast track applications and adoption of drones in the agriculture sector, including crop health monitoring and spraying of soil nutrients. The Registration Committee has received information for trials from eight crop protection companies seeking approval.”
Speaking on the occasion, Asitava Sen, Chief Executive Officer, CropLife India, said, “It’s a perfect time as the policy framework is in place; we should look into how all stakeholders can work together to help develop a conducive ecosystem for use drones in agrochemical spraying and specifically agrochemical spraying. It is a well-established fact that we have little experience available for agrochemical applications by drones in India; the learning curve is steep for all stakeholders.”
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“As the usage of drones offers huge benefits, and it is in the interest of the farmers that this technology is introduced at the earliest, or at least its seeding programme to gain experience and familiarity need to be started the soonest; leading to large scale acceptance and use in India,” Sen added.
Addressing the round-table, Hemendra Mathur, co-founder, ThinkAg in his introductory remarks said, “Government’s push towards digitalisation and mechanisation of agriculture coupled with the focus on hi-tech services would enhance rural entrepreneurship and infuse youth back in the farmlands, boosting the income of the farmers. Use of drones in agrochemical spraying, crop health monitoring and data collection will be transformative for Indian agriculture.”
Dr. Vidhu Kampurath P, Joint Director – Plant Health Engineering, National Institute of Plant Health Management (NIPHM) said, “NIPHM has developed a 10-day integrated training module for both flight and spraying for drone pilots and operators, which is awaiting DGCA clearance. This will help a drone pilot getting a license for drone flying valid for 10 years. This training is both mandatory and essential to ensure optimal and proper handling of drones. The institute is also planning to tie-up with other Central and state agriculture universities and institutes to roll out across the country.”
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Smit Shah, President, Drone Federation of India said, “The latest policies and liberal production linked incentives announced by the Government will help ‘Made in India’ drones and India to become a drone hub. The ban on the import of finished drones is a welcome step as it will help the domestic drone manufacturing industry to grow. The essential components of drones including engines and batteries still can be imported without restrictions for local manufacturing. It is time for all players to work collaboratively towards expanding the market first, rather than focussing on market share”.
Dinesh Sharma, Grower Digital Connect Lead, Bayer CropScience said, “The introduction of drones for spraying agrochemicals in the country will help address the manpower shortage in the agriculture sector, especially during the peak crop seasons. However, the nation needs skilled operators and service providers for the drones and large scale demonstrations are needed for awareness and adoption of this technology. Spraying by drones will be a seasonal business and given small land holdings in the country; entrepreneurs’ interest needs to be protected.”
Ashish Jangale, Head- Precision Farming, Farm Division, Mahindra & Mahindra said, “Mahindra and Mahindra is engaged in Farming-as-a-Service through Krish-e Centres and is working on series of multi-crop multi-season trials to develop drone and chemical protocols for agrochemical spraying, enhancing battery life and maintenance of drones in remote areas, increasing tank capacity and improving yields for farmers with the use of drones along with the safety of drone sprayers and crops. The results will be published as an SOP for entrepreneurs, custom hiring centres, FPOs and other partners.”
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Baskar S. Reddy, Executive Director, Syngenta Foundation India said, “The drone training and maintenance should be focused on rural youth as it will help in generating employment and help the sustainability of drone entrepreneurship. The subsidy disbursement mechanism should be streamlined so those small entrepreneurs can have access to simple and single-window application and clearance.”
Shailendra Singh, Director, Baraula Farmer Producer Co said, “Farmer producer organisations (FPOs) can be an aggregator for all stakeholders in the drone spraying ecosystem. Government has provided 75 per cent subsidy to FPOs vis-à-vis custom hiring centres being 50 per cent; which would help encourage FPOs to offer drone services.”
Deepak Bhardwaj, Co-Founder & CEO, IoTechWorld Avigation said, “We have tested out Agribot in 10 states in almost all the crops and the results are better compared to conventional methods. We are mentoring entrepreneurs, along with working with FPOs, to build a service model for drone spraying. Drone spray demonstrations are being done to enhance awareness about this technology. Most of the issues related to affordability have been resolved by the Government of India and indigenising drone components would further enhance affordability.”