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Drones in precision agriculture in Bangladesh

Published : Wednesday, 8 December, 2021 at 12:00 AM  Count : 1009
Md Abdullahil Baki Bhuiyan

Drones in precision agriculture in Bangladesh

Drones in precision agriculture in Bangladesh

The global population will be expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 when the demand for food would be double the present status. The adoption of cutting-edge technologies could only achieve this target. The use of automation and robotics in agriculture is now time-demanding tools/devices to accelerate crop production. Artificial intelligence (AI) is now an integral part of precision agriculture. Automation and robotics in agriculture are no longer considered as a dream but a reality.

The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is popularly known as a drone which is an aircraft without a human pilot or crew on board. The alternate name of the drone is a flying robot that can be controlled remotely and can fly autonomously through software-controlled flight plans. Drones were used in 1849 when Austria attacked Venice using unmanned balloons carrying explosives. Since then drones have been utilized for military purposes until the twentieth century. A significant number of drones were used during World War II by the Nazi government.

However, with the improvement of technologies and price fall, drones have expanded to many non-military purposes over the last few decades. Aerial photography, multispectral imagery, pests, and diseases of crop monitoring and forecasting are the major implications of drones in Agriculture. Multispectral images are widely used to determine soil and crop health so that it is possible to estimate the crop yield, weed, pest, and pathogen infestation and future prediction of yield. The naked eye has very limited assessment power and is very subjective. Our sensitivity is to capture images at web lengths between 390 and 770 nanometers. Humans can only determine the color between violet to red. However, some wavelengths range between shorter (ultraviolet) or longer (infrared) wavelengths that remain unperceivable by human eyes.

As of today, about 150 vegetation indices have been developed to analyze various ecologies. Vegetation indices (VI) are developed from reflectance measurements in two or more wavelengths. These indices are utilized to quantify the total leaf area, water content, crop health, moisture, and nutrient status.

Several cameras (RGB, multispectral, hyperspectral, LiDAR, Fluorescence) are usually used in Agriculture. Multispectral cameras are commonly used in agriculture reflectance because they can determine the reflectance in near-infrared bands. A multispectral camera consisting of spectra of blue (475 nm), green (560 nm), red (700), red edge (720 nm), and near red (840 nm). These bands are used to classify plant diseases.

A drone equipped with different sensors can detect plant diseases at an early stage. Early detection of plant disease is essential to protect the crop from the epidemic development of disease. Because prophylactic measures are easily undertaken at this stage. Previously, manual observation was the only basis of plant disease detection. In the last few decades, molecular techniques have been used to detect plant disease but very small. Modern Agriculture adopts automation techniques. Application of sensor-based drone in plant disease detection ushers hope for future advancement in plant breeding and developing disease-resistant plant varieties. Sensor-based drones can identify diseases at 70-98% accuracy level. About 15 diseases from 12 field crops have been diagnosed using drones in the last five years. However, this number has been escalating in recent days.  

Similarly, effective pest management needs early detection and timely control measures. Drones are used to detect pest hotspots. In developed countries, drones are used to spray pesticides in crop fields to avoid health problems of humans. The drone could navigate with the GIS coordinates so that it could precisely spray pesticides at the target area.

With the advancement of technologies, drones are applied for many purposes such as film making, photography, mapping, land survey, etc. However, the application of drones in the Precision Agriculture of Bangladesh is minimal. Only a few drones are currently operating just for research purposes. In Bangladesh, the drone was first used in Agriculture in 2015 by International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) in collaboration with Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute (BARI). The project's objectives include determining the irrigation requirement and assessing the crop damage from floods or cyclones.

I recently experienced drone application to obtain multispectral/hyperspectral data from crop fields and disease-infected fruit trees from the GIS and remote sensing laboratory at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University (BSMRAU). As a plant pathologist, I have experienced a large-scale detection of decline syndrome of jackfruit within a concise period with high accuracy. In addition, the same drone has been used to determine the crop health of various research fields of BSMRAU.

Besides the benefits, there are some drawbacks too. Drones are expensive. It requires basic knowledge and skills to operate. The flight time of drones in agriculture is less. Another major problem is the farm size of Bangladesh. Most of the farms are marginal (0.02-0.2 ha; 38.62%) and small farms (0.2-1.0ha; 49.86%), in contrast, the medium (1.0-3.0 ha) and large farms (>3.0 ha) are 10.35% and 1%, respectively. These farming patterns are not economically viable for operating drones. Moreover, permission from the Civil Aviation Authority of Department (CAAB) is a must to maneuver drones for non-military purposes.  

The national agriculture policy-2018 (Jatio Krishi Niti-2018) stressed adopting the Precision Agriculture concept (Krishi Niti-2018 clause 10.9) so that farmers could increase their crop production. Climate change is also a big issue for future food production. The climate-smart agriculture techniques are now discussed at the policy level in this context. Wide-scale use of drones in our next generation Precision Agriculture could be a driving force to accurately monitor, assess and forecast crop health, food production, and food deficit/ surplus, respectively. The Government should find ways to use drones in agriculture for future sustainable and sufficient food production.     
Dr Md Abdullahil Baki Bhuiyan,
Associate Professor, Department
of Plant Pathology, BSMRAU

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