Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)


1. Overview

Distant water points and livestock are obvious things that require checking up on, and how better to do it than sending an unmanned aircraft (during the day or night) to confirm that all is in order. Useful applications of drones in agriculture revolve around:

  • surveillance of livestock, vehicles etc
  • damage and infrastructure inspection
  • mapping the layout of lands (3D maps)
  • a useful contribution to precision farming: to monitor things like crop health, determining nutrient needs of plants, fertiliser runoff, and how efficiently water is being used. Indeed, the evidence as presented in one role player’s website suggests that the quality of data from the drone surpasses that of satellites.

General concerns about UAVs centre around the potential misuse of these appliances: the loss of privacy and other security concerns.

Farmers will need to do their own sums about the value UAVs give to their operations. Consider:

  • What additional information will be provided?
  • What operations are performed more effectively by UAVs?
  • Where will their use free up time on the farm for other task?


2. African business environment

In Africa, the major challenge to using drones in agriculture are the regulations governing their usage. These regulations are generally controlled by military and civil aviation authorities due to the sensitive nature of airspaces where UAVs operate. Currently only seven countries in Africa have regulations regarding drones. These include Cote d’ Ivoire, Kenya, Botswana, South Africa, Nigeria, Rwanda and Ghana. In fact, the regulations in Kenya prohibit the use of the UAVs.

Source: “Future of drones in agriculture dependent on enactment of regulations”, an article in SACAU October 2016 newsletter.


3. National strategy and government contact

Find relevant legislation under “Knowledge base” at www.cuaasa.org, website of the Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Association of Southern Africa (CUAASA). The response of the industry to the initial regulations was unenthusiastic. Other countries which had integrated UAVs into their spaces had less onerous and complex legislation in place, and government was encouraged to see how it had been done there.

Department of Transport www.transport.gov.za


4. Role players


Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Association of Southern Africa (CUAASA) www.cuaasa.org

Training & research

  • ARC-Soil, Climate & Water (ARC-SCW) Harold Weepener - weepenerh [at] arc.agric.za, www.arc.agric.za
  • ARC-Agricultural Engineering (ARC-AE) Johan van Biljon Tel: 012 842 4017 www.arc.agric.za
  • Western Cape Department of Agriculture Research and Technology Development Services, Arie van Ravenswaay arievr [at] elsenburg.com



5. Websites and publications