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Government Seeks to Expedite Drone Application & Acceptance In The Agriculture Sector

The DGCA, the agricultural ministry, and the CIB&RC are collaborating to expedite drone application and acceptance in the agriculture sector.

Chintu Das
Drones in Agriculture
Drones in Agriculture

The central government has increased its efforts to boost drone usage in agriculture. The strategy calls on the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Central Insecticide Board and Registration Committee (CIBRC) to expedite drone applications and acceptance.

"The DGCA, the agricultural ministry, and the CIBRC are working together to fast accelerate applications and acceptance of drones in the agriculture sector, including crop health monitoring and soil nutrient spraying," said Ravi Prakash, a senior official at the CIBRC.

Prakash made the remarks during a virtual event co-hosted by CropLife and the NGO ThinkAg. He went on to say that drones were inexpensive and would aid in better productivity.

The Board has received petitions from eight crop protection companies asking authorization to undertake drone studies, according to the report.

The CIBRC is a government agency tasked with overseeing the import, manufacturing, sale, transportation, distribution, and use of insecticides. The Directorate of Plant Protection, Quarantine, and Storage oversees the Central Panel.

Other government agencies are said to have joined the programme as well. The National Institute of Plant Health Management has created a ten-day training programme for drone pilots to teach them how to fly and spray using these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The idea is pending DGCA approval, according to the institution.

A drone pilot will receive a certified drone flying licence that will be valid for ten years under the scheme. According to reports, the institute is considering collaborating with other central and state agriculture universities and institutes for a pan-India rollout.

Government's Initiative

This comes only a month after Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman called for harnessing 'Drone Shakti' in her Budget speech, adding that 'Drone-As-A-Service (DrAAS) startups are the need of the hour.'

Add to that the fact that in February of this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched 100 Kisan Drones to spray pesticides over crops across the country.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) enacted important regulatory changes last month to boost the domestic drone sector by prohibiting the import of drones with immediate effect, although with several exceptions.

Drone Shakti

Drones spraying pesticides might alleviate a number of difficulties for the industry. It has the potential to alleviate the sector's workforce deficit, particularly during peak crop seasons. Drones might also aid in agricultural evaluation and land record digitization, as well as provide a new source of employment in the country.

Drones may be particularly cost-effective in labor-intensive industries, and they might help'small and marginal farmers' increase production while lowering expenses.

On the other hand, it confronts a number of challenges, including a shortage of experienced staff and concerns with drone maintenance. A lack of regulations for pesticide spraying also exists, which might have severe consequences for farmers who are exposed to chemicals from above.

Establishing An Ecosystem

Meanwhile, the Centre appears to have gone too far with the sector's policy adjustments. In September of last year, the Centre announced an INR 120 crore Production-Linked Incentive (PLI) plan to encourage domestic drone manufacture.

In addition, the government has liberalised drone restrictions by enacting a plethora of measures, including the new UAS Rules 2021 and their subsequent revision this year, in order to accelerate drone use in the nation.

Meanwhile, the industry's red tape continues to suffocate entrepreneurial energy and general public acceptance. The area remains in limbo, with numerous permits and delineated no-go zones owing to security risks.

The amount of such startups operating in the country is a strong indication of this. There are just 180 drone startups in India, which have raised a total of $27 million over the years.

However, the general feeling appears to be encouraging, with the Centre aiming to progress the industry through initiatives and laws that will lower barriers for both businesses and the general public.

The end outcome is visible to everybody. On March 10, RattanIndia launched a wholly owned subsidiary, NeoSky, which will develop, produce, and distribute consumer micro drones across India, with an initial expenditure of INR 100 crore. The company plans to start selling its goods in the first quarter of 2023.

BharatRohan, a Delhi-based agritech startup, secured an unknown sum of early capital for its drone-based crop monitoring service on the same day.

Furthermore, even large Indian corporate players appear to be enamoured with the area. RIL, through its Bengaluru-based startup Asteria Aerospace, in which it owns a majority investment, has scaled up its intentions to be a prominent player in the area, according to media reports published earlier this month.

In June of last year, states like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, and Punjab began testing long-range drone deliveries on a pilot basis. This was done to see if drones might bring prescriptions, shopping, and food orders to people's homes.

Overall, the initiative is to be commended, and it has the potential to bring in a new age in the agricultural industry. Agriculture is believed to be the country's backbone, and it appears that the project is an attempt to straighten out the country's crooked backbone.

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