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Local start-up pushes drone irrigation

A LOCAL tech start-up, Iris Dynamics, is seeking to promote drone irrigation to improve harvests at a time unpredictable weather conditions are threatening Zimbabwe’s food security.

Iris Dynamics was established in 2018 by its CEO Nyasha Hambira (26), a graduate from Australia’s Sydney University, with a goal of making the company a leading provider of technological solutions in the country.

“We specialise in technological advancements for civil, business and private purposes,” Hambira told Standardbusiness.

“Renewable energy is a booming industry and we took advantage of investors’ interest by providing solar-powered infrastructure and more.

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“We are currently planning on installing solar-powered bus stop benches free of charge, around famous stops even currently used by Zupco passengers.

“Drones have normally been used to shoot pictures and film videos from high altitudes.

“Innovation in drone technology has led major companies such as DJI to build and develop irrigation drones, which aid farmers in spraying chemicals or water over crops covering hectares of land.”

Climate change over the past decade has resulted in regular drought-like conditions in southern Africa.

This has greatly increased food insecurity in the region.

According to the 2018-2019 Agricultural Sector Survey, for the last decade Zimbabwe’s maize production has been below the national optimal level due to droughts.

So frequent are the droughts that the current 2019/20 cropping season is already seeing huge drops in the country’s major edible crops such as maize, soya bean and wheat.

There has been a major drop in the yield of cash crops such as cotton and tobacco that earn the country foreign currency, as a result of the dry spell.

Iris Dynamics has two farmers using their 15-litre drones located in Mutare and Gweru to irrigate and spray their crops.

One of the farmers, Owen Nathan Mazvazva who owns a 200-hectare farm in Gweru, started using drone irrigation last year.

“We started in 2019 to save on water and pesticides as drones save up to 90% on water and 40% on pesticides due to the efficient spraying technique,” Mazvazva said.

He said they were currently using two drones that hold up to 15 litres of water with a flying capacity of up to 30 minutes.

When in flight, the drones are usually flown at a low altitude with a dispersal mechanism attached to the 15-litre container that does all the spraying over the crop.

“The time to physically plant crops with manned machines remains the same, however, irrigation of these seeds is sped up to 10 times faster, meaning seeds will sprout a few weeks sooner than expected,” Nathan said.

Iris Dynamics imports the drones from China.

“Our agricultural 15-litre drone costs only US$4 000 including duty and value-added tax,” Hambira said.

“Many spares, warranty, batteries and software are provided.

The use of drone technology in agriculture has only gathered steam in the past few years because governments have continued to have security concerns over using the technology.

But, international bodies such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations and International Telecommunication Union (ITU) have championed using such technologies amid worsening climate change.

In a joint 2018 research paper titled ‘E-Agriculture in Action: Drones for Agriculture’ from FAO and ITU, it found that drones have a huge potential in agriculture in supporting evidence-based planning and in spatial data collection.

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