The Digital Economy Promotion Agency (Depa) plans to launch Thailand's first project offering large drones to communities and training them in drone maintenance in an effort to push smart farming development.
The project -- One Drone, One Community -- is supported by the Digital Economy Fund with the aim of creating an economic impact of more than 800 million baht in 500 communities. The project is set to start in July.
According to Depa president and chief executive Nuttapon Nimmanphatcharin, the project also needs approval from the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission and the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand.
He said the farming population comprises around half of the country's total population.
However, they face many obstacles including not owning land, heavy debt burdens, and a lack of technological applications. Volatile weather often leads to low productivity, said Mr Nuttapon. The combined output of the agriculture sector is less than 10% of GDP, and farmers are unable to determine the selling price of produce on the world market.
Mr Nuttapon said the project is a way to resolve core pain points as the large drones would help to reduce working hours, lower costs of operations, and boost productivity.
The use of drones for crop spraying could be achieved in two minutes per rai with a precise programmable control system, compared to conventional spraying that takes 30 minutes per rai to finish. The drones can also help farmers reduce their exposure to chemicals while increasing productivity per rai by 15% on average.
The project will provide a drone to each community that wants one. One community may comprise 20 farmer households.
The project will provide a 60% subsidy of the drone acquisition, while communities will pay the rest. The communities can seek financial support from the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, which is one of the project's partners, or from other financial sources.
Mr Nuttapon said that initially the project is expected to cover 1.25 million rai of agricultural land nationwide.
Apart from providing the drones, the project will also offer upskilling courses to communities for drone control, targeting 1,000 trainees in five regions, together with drone repair training courses for 100 technicians.
It will also develop five drone-controlling skills development centres and promote 50 community businesses related to drone services and repair in five regions.
The project is seen as the first promotion of drone use nationwide, with an ecosystem that involves all smart farming stakeholders comprising farmers, communities, small businesses in the regions, technicians, and people, Mr Nuttapon said.
He said fine-tuned drones for smart farming could specifically serve farming processes and could result in the development of big data in the agriculture sector.