Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Chinese drones making Thai farmers’ work easier, safer – Report

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As a child, Nikorn Hanrasa used to watch his grandparents plough their rice farm with water buffaloes, and harvest by hand.

His parents had switched to tractors, while he now used a drone to spray pesticide on his field in Roi Et province, northeastern Thailand.

The 43-year-old, who now grew rice on about 30 rai (4.8 hectares) of land, returned to his family farmwork after the pandemic forced him out of a job in the capital Bangkok in late 2020.

Fascinated by aerial photography using a drone, Nikorn got interested in the idea of drones being used for farm applications.

He bought a DJI agricultural drone and started a new career — an agricultural drone pilot.

“Young people are now reluctant to engage in the laborious farm work, while the middle-aged and elderly form the backbone of agricultural cultivation in our village.

“Using the drone can make the farmwork easier, safer and more efficient,’’ Nikorn said.

Nikon used the drone to spray pesticides, fertilizer and growth hormone.

“With the drone, I spray 40-50 rai of crops every day and can spray crops precisely and effectively. Without it, people could only do less than 10 rai,’’ he said.

Being an agricultural drone pilot, Nikorn charged 100 baht (about 2.83 U.S. dollars) for spraying per rai of land.

“I now earn more than working in Bangkok, and can spend more time with my family.’’

Agriculture is of great importance to the Thai economy, with nearly half of the country’s population engaged in the sector, according to data from the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives.

However, the pandemic restrictive measures posed a threat to the industry.

For Aroon, 63, who owned 30 rai of durian orchard in southern Thailand’s Chumphon province, labour was one of the biggest challenges.

Because of the pandemic, labour was hard to get.

“I tried to use a drone to spray pesticide and found it’s really (more) efficient than manpower.

“With the drone, I not only can avoid pesticide poisoning but also save money on labour,’’ he said, adding that he could save about 300,000 baht (about 8,470 dollars) on labor each year by using the drone.

These came amid the Southeast Asian country’s increasing efforts to shift from traditional farming toward modern farming.

The digitalisation of agricultural value chains in Asia-Pacific is being driven by factors including demographic changes, technological progress, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Precision agriculture and agricultural drones were key digital-based solutions reshaping farming in the region.

“They help farmers produce more with less water, land, inputs, energy and labour while protecting biodiversity and reducing carbon emissions,’’ the FAO said in a report on digitalisation in agriculture.

DJI, a drone giant based in Shenzhen in southern China, tapped into Thailand’s agricultural drone market in 2016 and had witnessed fast expansion in sales and seen great growth potential.

“Thailand has become our largest overseas market in terms of agricultural drone shipment this year,’’ said Chen Tao, head of DJI agriculture sales department.

Taking advantage of China’s experience in agricultural drone application and tailoring its solutions to the local conditions.

The Shenzhen-based company hoped to use its technology and experience to serve more farmers around the world, Chen said.


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