Pakistan Federal Minister for Science & Technology Fawad Chaudhry drones locust
Pakistan Federal Minister for Science & Technology Fawad Chaudhry introduces Pakistan-made drones to fight locust attacks. Image Credit: Ministry of Science

Islamabad: Pakistan on Tuesday unveiled locally developed drones to fight the locust attack threatening food security.

Pakistan-made “drones will revolutionise the country’s agriculture industry”, Federal Minister for Science & Technology Fawad Chaudhry said, sharing the photo of drones on Twitter.

Pakistan’s Ministry of Science and Technology signed an agreement with a private company, ABM-SATUMA, for the production and agriculture application of the drones to deal with locust crisis. The drones would be handed over to National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

Drones to help Pakistan save crops, achieve better productivity

“The ministry is now focusing on precision farming with the introduction of drone technology to enhance agricultural productivity,” Minister Fawad said, encouraging youngsters to work on agritech startups.

Dr Suleiman Ashraf, CEO of Surveillance and Target Unmanned Aircraft (ABM-SATUMA), said the company that has been working with the country’s defence industry for over two decades has decided to develop drones for the agriculture sector to help farmers save crops and achieve efficiency. The hexacopter drone has six propellers and has the carrying capacity of about 16kg, which means it can spray up to 16 litres of pesticide in about 15-18 minutes. The drones
designed and manufactured in Pakistan will reduce time and cost of farmers while saving crops and protecting farmers from exposure to harmful chemicals with efficient spraying, Dr Ashraf said. “The manual spraying that takes more than one hour can be done in 5 minutes using the drone.”

Don’t buy, just rent a drone

Pakistani farmers can now take full advantage of drone technology to save crops. The drones are simple, fast, affordable and easy to use, according to the experts. The local production has reduced the cost of agricultural drones by one-third. But can the farmers afford the drone? “Farmers don’t have to buy or own the drones. We would introduce a rent-a-drone service similar to Uber, that would connect farmers with the drone as per their requirement,” Minister Fawad explained.

Pandemic and locust threat scale up local production

The dual threat of the coronavirus pandemic and locust swarms has mobilised local companies to develop and scale up manufacturing of made in Pakistan products. Drones are also under production at high-tech industry National Radio Telecommunication Corporation (NRTC) that also developed Pakistan-made ventilators introduced by Prime Minister Imran Khan last week.

How can drones help farmers?

The drones, equipped with mapping sensors, will be used to spray pesticides as nearly 60 districts in all provinces of Pakistan are battling an invasion of desert locusts devouring crops. Spraying of pesticides using drones is highly effective over traditional methods such as vehicle-mounted sprayers, experts say.

“Pakistan’s drone technology is among the world’s most advanced,” Federal Minister Fawad said in an earlier post retweeting a drone demonstration video.

Benefits of using drones for farmers
The technology can help farmers:
- Monitor crop health and growth
- Assist in planning irrigation schedules
- Optimise the use of inputs (seed, fertilizers, water)
- Pest surveillance to react quickly to threats
- Asses yield data
- Soil and field analysis
- Crop spraying

What has Pakistan done so far to overcome the locust challenge?

Pakistan has conducted anti-locust operation in 32 affected districts of the country, covering 2.6 million acres of area. As many as 1028 joint teams comprising over 5336 people and 676 vehicles took part in the anti-locusts operations including aerial spraying, according to National Locust Control Center (NLCC) data. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s University of Agriculture Faisalabad is developing biopesticides to combat locusts.

The locust invasion has been declared a national emergency to fight the worst locust plague in decades. An estimated 38% of Pakistan’s land is potential breeding ground for locusts, according to the FAO report. Ministry for Food estimated the losses to agriculture from locusts could be between a minimum of Rs490 billion and up to Rs2.451 trillion in the worst-case scenario.

Pakistan rushed the production of drones to be used to spray pesticides on fields after warnings that locust situation may worsen in the coming weeks (July 15 – September 15).