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Drones in African agriculture

Agriculture is one of the oldest practices developed by mankind. It dates back to around 10,000 BC, to a period known as the "Neolithic revolution". Prior to this period, humans were nomadic hunter-gatherers, depending on gathering wild plants and hunting animals for food. Over time, with sedentarization, agriculture became an indispensable part of society. Today, it has become a complex, highly mechanized global industry, using cutting-edge technologies such as biotechnology, computerized management and drones by farmers. However, in view of the relatively high rate of famine, and the challenges of malnutrition in Africa, there are many questions surrounding the feasibility of introducing these modern technologies into African agriculture.

The introduction of drones in the agricultural sector has opened up new possibilities and brought significant advances. Agricultural drones are equipped with sensors and cameras, enabling precise data to be collected on crops, soils and environmental conditions, helping farmers to make justified decisions and optimize their farming practices. They offer many advantages over traditional methods of crop monitoring and farmland management. The results of a case study carried out in Rwanda are a case in point; this study proved that the introduction of drones has helped farmers to collect data, enabling them to make informed decisions about fertilization, irrigation and the management of phytosanitary treatments. The repercussions are also good in terms of optimizing inputs, reducing costs and boosting crop productivity. Rwanda, a densely populated country in East Africa, is essentially dependent on the agricultural sector, which accounts for around 30% of its GDP.

Still in the African context, agriculture is highly diverse, due to the variety of climates, soils and crops present on the continent. Over time, different civilizations and regions have developed agricultural practices adapted to their specific environments. However, African agriculture remains characterized as traditional because of the conservation and use of ancestral methods; farms remain family-sized, relatively small, and aim only to provide for the family's food needs. Of course, it is possible to clearly identify the existence of Arab land, which could be used for industrial agriculture. But the lack of modern techniques and ignorance of the latest technological advances limit African farmers. The skills and knowledge required to use these technologies are also an obstacle, limiting farmers' predisposition to develop farms with an industrial outlook. What's more, there are regulatory and legal constraints linked to the use of drones at national level, not to mention the costs of acquisition, installation and maintenance, which can represent a significant initial investment for farmers.

Yet despite these difficulties, Africa's traditional agriculture continues to play a crucial role. The question, then, is whether we should simply adopt industrial or semi-industrial farming practices and modern technology to overcome looming challenges such as famine? Is industrial agriculture sustainable, given the transition to organic farming?

Toovi Joas Arnaud



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