Prospective Avenues for Precision-Ag in Nepal !!
Due to unprecedented climate change resulting from rapid population growth, uncontrolled pollution, and increased food scarcity, the demand for climate-smart agricultural practices has grown worldwide. Many developed regions and African countries have been actively experimenting with and validating such practices. Simultaneously, precision agriculture, utilizing drone technology, is also advancing. Precision agriculture has gained global recognition, and in Nepal, some organizations have started investigating its feasibility.
Undoubtedly, implementing precision agriculture in Nepal presents challenges due to the highly fragmented arable land; however, we need to continuously seek for suitable options and alternatives. Land fragmentation presents various challenges when applying the principles of precision agriculture in Nepalese farms, particularly those primarily dedicated to the cultivation of rice and wheat, which are cereal crops. However, the hurdles may not be as significant when it comes to cash crops like sugarcane and tea due to their extensive cultivation areas.
The cultivation of sugarcane and tea holds promising prospects for precision agriculture for several reasons:
Large Cultivated Areas: Sugarcane and tea are typically grown on extensive agricultural lands. This minimizes the risks associated with fragmented lands and the vast acreage involved makes it practical to implement precision agriculture technologies, including drones, for monitoring and managing these crops efficiently.
Variable Growth Patterns: Both sugarcane and tea exhibit variable growth patterns within their plantations. Precision agriculture can help identify and address variations in growth, health, and yield, enabling farmers to optimize their resources and maximize productivity.
Resource Optimization and cost Reduction: Drones equipped with remote sensing technologies can assess the health and nutritional needs of sugarcane and tea crops. This information allows farmers to apply fertilizers, pesticides, and water precisely where they are needed, reducing waste and improving resource efficiency. Drones change all this, supported by geospatial data analytic software and ability to communicate with experts remotely. They also augment or reduce the need for workers in the field, responsible for walkabout scouting, inspection, and surveillance.
Pest and Disease Management: Unfavorable climate has affected tea and sugarcane production all over the country. On the other hand, one of the surveys has revealed that 40% of tea farmers applied pesticides ten times or more in one crop cycle. In these cases, drones can perform regular aerial surveys of sugarcane and tea fields, enabling early detection of pests and diseases. Timely and appropriate intervention can prevent the spread of these issues and minimize crop damage.
Yield Prediction: Government data shows that sugarcane production decreased by more than 305,000 metric tons in the last three years while output from tea has also been decreasing each passing year for lack of fertilisers. Precision agriculture, combined with data analytics, can provide valuable insights into expected crop yields. This information aids in better planning, forecasting, and marketing of sugarcane and tea products.
Environmental Sustainability: Precision agriculture practices, such as targeted application of inputs, contribute to reduced environmental impact by minimizing chemical runoff and conserving resources. This promotes environmental sustainability in both tea and sugarcane farming through early disease and pest detection using drones, minimizing the use of harmful chemicals and protecting the delicate ecosystem of the region.
Market Competitiveness: Among myriad gnawing problems, lack of certification and branding, organic tea of Nepal is not able to enter the international market and command premium prices. In case of sugarcane, the quality of sugarcane is also low in Nepal which is ~ 9% compared to the world average of 12 to 14 %. Implementing modern agricultural technologies like precision agriculture can enhance the competitiveness of sugarcane and tea products in both domestic and international markets.
In conclusion, precision agriculture offers a bright future for the cultivation of sugarcane and tea by providing tools and techniques to enhance productivity, reduce costs, and promote sustainability in these vital agricultural sectors. Furthermore, through the utilization of drones, GPS technology, and sensors in the context of tea and sugarcane, we can gather valuable insights into the challenges, deficiencies, potential opportunities, and outlook for extending the concept of precision agriculture to other crops.