• Rob Hulme, Head of Asia Beanstalk AgTech

Agriculture drone landscape and adoption in South East Asia

In the second Grow Asia Digital Learning Series Workshop we brought together 100 industry stakeholders (including 50 joining by webcam from across the region) to address the role of drones in South East Asia. The aim was to come away from the workshop with a clear idea about what needs to happen in SEA to support smallholder farmers and the adoption of drones, drawing on the learning from the recent strong development of drone services in China.

We were fortunate to have the team from IPSOS Hong Kong, a consultancy with a focus on bringing insights to the opportunities and barriers to drone development across Asia. IPSOS provided a keynote presentation coinciding with the launch of their latest study (www.ipsosconsulting.com/Agriculture-Drones), reporting that investments in agricultural drones increased 344% between 2013 and 2015 from US$94.1 million to US$323.9 million, with the primary uses of agricultural drones being spraying and crop monitoring. The outcomes are broadly categorised around labor saving, environmental sustainability, crop protection product efficiency and operator safety.

A separate panel consisting of Siang Hee Tan (CropLife Asia), Jessica Chun (IPSOS) and Jin Xi Cheong (Poladrone) confirmed the potential for drones in South East Asia, supported by the rise in service providers, but also identified key challenges to further expansion. These where further addressed in the breakout workshop;

1. Regulatory

These include licensing, training and accreditation, operation, packaging and drone-specific formulations. The top three actions identified by the working group to improve regulatory access included;

  • CropLife Asia convene a Roundtable of key regulatory stakeholders to raise awareness and align on focus areas. This would include identifying a leading country in South East Asia and working with industry to develop a best practice example for adoption (eg Vietnam)

  • Clear guidelines for training, certification and accreditation of licensed operators

  • Provision of additional data to show equivalence in performance (efficacy, crop safety, residues, environmental drift)

2. Business Models

The current business models for drones in SEA are currently not attractive enough for drone service operators. The top three actions identified by the working group to support new drone business models included;

  • Develop cooperation models with Service Providers (eg Cooperatives, Retailers and Distributors)

  • Target the right crops and scale to provide area coverage

  • Lobby for subsidies from Government Agencies for shifting to more environmentally sustainable practices

3. Operations

Drones have a number of practical limitations for smallholder farmers, including access, setup and efficient operation. The top 3 areas identified by the working group that need to be addressed include;

  • Provide clear development focus of (country, crop, additives, drone-specific formulations)

  • Quantify the value of drones to various stakeholders (i.e. return on investment)

  • Training and Certification of users

4. Farmer Needs

In some cases, farmers in South East Asia are not able to identify the real benefit of the technology. The top three actions to support smallholder drone adoption in South East Asia include;

  • Ready access to trained Service Providers via mobile apps (eg Uber for Tractors)

  • Clear demonstration of the benefits of drones (e.g. financial, environmental, flexibility, operator safety etc)

  • Competitive cost position compared with the current practices

The next Grow Asia digital event is the Digital ASEAN Demo Day on 30 July in Singapore. Please join us to hear pitches from the seven of the leading agtech startups from across the region.

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