The fatal Covid-19 has posed a good obstacle to community well being and pushed us all beneath a lockdown.

In this unusually difficult time, an additional team of troublemakers has long gone rogue in the countryside, threatening crop well being. It is the exotic desert locust, a polyphagous gregarious pest, which travels in swarms and has a significant urge for food.

Locusts cause major problems by devouring leaves, fruits, seeds and increasing details of vegetation, and even deliver down trees with their excess weight. In India, desert locusts are commonly noticed in the scheduled desert parts (SDA) of Rajasthan, Haryana and Gujarat from time to time for the duration of the kharif year. They ended up also claimed for the initial time for the duration of the rabi year past yr.

On the other hand, 2020 looks to have imparted special powers to desert locusts, which have expanded their territory from SDA to successful agricultural lands in Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab.

Even 2018-19 was not notably sympathetic to Indian agriculture, as the invasive drop armyworm (FAW) landed in the state and struck maize production appreciably. Knowledge about integrated pest management dissipated working with digital media, and significant-scale farmer training programmes, assisted equip the farmers in the combat towards FAW.

Have to have for progressive answers

The blows from these types of adverse gatherings, alongside with the shortage of labour for carrying out weeding and harvesting operations aside from other farm things to do, need progressive answers for the agriculture sector. The pandemic that has prompted major reduction of workdays and capital, too, has hit the agricultural sector hard. So, to management exotic pests, move up surveillance and conquer the worries of farming amid the pandemic, the progressive engineering of flying drones is now poised to assist agriculture.

A number of prospects await drone programs in Indian agriculture, which faces a burgeoning populace, increasing the expense of agricultural inputs and the will need to attain sustainable progress plans. Accordingly, the Centre aims to introduce drones, also termed as unmanned aerial motor vehicles (UAV), to agriculture, beginning with the existing-day dilemma of desert locusts.

The progress will come with the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare (MoA&FW) rolling out an e-procurement tender to involve UAVs in aerial spraying of pesticides. It could be a groundbreaking move for pesticide application in India, the place a lot of farmers shed their life for the duration of the process. A practice now prevalent in nations around the world like the US, Australia, Japan and China, the use of UAVs in agriculture propagates the thoughts of targeted application and precision agriculture.

R&D at nascent phase

UAVs in precision agriculture are not only restricted to pesticide application but also in distant sensing, pest surveillance, assessment of field and soil and estimating crop heights, amongst many others. On the other hand, the study and progress operations for UAVs are however at a nascent phase in India, even although 70 for every cent of the rural populace is engaged in agriculture.

Pesticide application working with UAVs will come with its individual established of specifications. These include things like the logistic troubles associated to drone and spraying models. Although the expense actions for drones will need adjustments, the different excess weight of payload for the duration of spraying also demands to be accommodated for in developing these types of drones. Moreover, the electricity troubles to assist drone operations for three-4 several hours persist. Additionally, the aerial spraying of pesticides demands to be verified for the safety of flora and fauna in the bordering setting working with the suitable toxicity research.

Scientific research are also essential to outline the suited parameters for the flying operations in alignment with the diversified environmental situations of India. Even although the governing administration has issued e-tenders for the inclusion of drones in aerial pesticide programs, a common guideline for addressing the fundamental troubles in UAV-centered pesticide application continues to be amiss.

Regular suggestions necessary

Now that the pests are evolving, expanding their host and geographical assortment, the availability of common suggestions can assistance velocity up controlling them with the highest efficacy. Just as Key Minister Narendra Modi a short while ago underlined the relevance of self-sufficiency in battling the pandemic, common suggestions for the operation of drones can assistance farmers become self-enough in utilising UAVs. The intelligent use of engineering can assistance combat invasive pests these types of as FAW and desert locusts with mettle, avoid them from getting to be endemic, and lessen the expense of production whilst protecting significant agricultural productivity.

Ironically, the draft common suggestions for UAV-centered pesticide application ready by the Indian Council of Agricultural Investigation (ICAR) are pending acceptance by the MoA&FW for some time now. A person significant obstacle to guideline acceptance is the ‘No Authorization, No Take-off’ clause for each and every UAV flight via India’s digital sky system. This clause proves cumbersome and impractical for the use of UAVs in agricultural operations, the place a number of consecutive flights continue to be required for aerial pesticide application.

Joint energy

To conquer this impediment, MoA&FW should to get the job done jointly with the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) for developing suited provisions in the digital sky system. A feasible remedy could be for MoA&FW to develop a system in ICAR to keep an eye on and management drone application in agriculture in conjunction with the Directorate Common of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

One more obstacle to UAV application in agriculture is the lack of initiative by the Central Pesticides Board and Registration Committee (CIB&RC) of MoA&FW to endorse the use of UAV in label and leaflet as an alternative spraying products for application of authorized pesticides. The requisite adjust in label declare of pesticides by the CIB&RC and required exemption in civil aviation specifications for drones issued in December 2018 by the DGCA, are essential for the operationalisation of drones in agriculture.

With out the acceptance and notification of ‘Standard Tips for Operation of Drones for Pesticide Application’, the ambitious call by the Minister of Agriculture to deploy drones for sprays, and e-tendering by his ministry for the empanelment of agencies for supplying the services of drones for locust management, which is a laudable initiative, would continue to be elusive.

(The writers are with the South Asia Biotechnology Centre, New Delhi. Views are own)