Unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) for agriculture


High-income countries have seen recent improvements in their agricultural management systems through modern remote sensing technology, such as satellites and aircrafts and the information they collect. Out of the vast amount of data collected, advice is provided to farmers and fishers to help inform their decisions.


This has led to better crop yields, higher quality produce and more sustainable agricultural practices in some cases. Big data also informs high-level decision-makers on how to better manage food supply at national and regional levels.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific there are significant spatial and technical challenges which have prevented the use of remote sensing technology in many areas. For example, smallholder farmers, who produce two thirds of the world’s food, often have small plots with unclear boundaries, often use intercropping and adopt a vast range of farm practices.

The use of small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) better known as ‘drones’ for agricultural purposes is a new emerging technology which could revolutionise the way agricultural entrepreneurs interact with their land, water, crops and infrastructure. UAVs can be made specifically for business use and farming in particular, they can capture geo-referenced, overlapping, high resolution images (2-5 cm) of 400 hectares in a single flight; can seamlessly upload data and produce agricultural analytics from their data management systems, and fly autonomously from take-off to landing.

Progress to date and ongoing activities

In 2015, CTA started engaging with UAV technology for use in agriculture including fisheries. In addition to creating and nurturing a community of practice and establishing a dedicated presence on Twitter, CTA has launched an assessment of UAV governance in ACP countries, as legislation governing their use is patchy or non-existent in many countries, which has impacts research, pilot-testing and adoption. So far work has been done in partnership with the International Potato Centre.

Linkages with private sector operators are in the pipeline. A dedicated issue of ICT Update was be published in April 2016. In the framework of its new 2016-2020 strategy, CTA plans to support awareness raising, capacity building and promote the responsible use of UAVs for agriculture.

Freddie Mbuya introduces young agripreneurs to the use of a quadcopter to scout crops and farm infrastructure in Ghana
Freddie Mbuya introduces young agripreneurs to the use of a quadcopter to scout crops and farm infrastructure in Ghana

© 2016, CTA. Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation

CTA is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.