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How Drones in Africa are Used to Deliver Medicine, Spot Crop Disease & More

African entrepreneurs are increasingly finding innovative ways to use drones. Drones are being used to deliver medicine to secluded parts of the continent, to identify crop disease and other such beneficial uses. Drones also have a history of military usage. Could the increasing use of drones by civilians lead to an increase in a more nefarious use of drones?

What are drones?

Drones are Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) that may be either remotely controlled by a human in real time or programmed to autonomously follow a defined route.

In their original design and purpose, drones were intended to be used by militaries around the world to access areas that were deemed inaccessible by humans, typically due to dangerous conditions or hazardous terrain. The first use of UAV’s, or drones, dates back to the 19th century when Austria launched 200 pilotless balloons against the city of Venice. The balloons were armed with bombs controlled by timed fuses.

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A drone mounted with HD surveillance cameras

Today, the number of drones used by civilians far outnumbers the number used by the military.

Drones in Africa

While drones in western countries have had a slow uptake, the same cannot be said of drones in Africa, as acquiring and operating a drone in Africa is relatively easy due to less stringent drone operation laws than those that exist in nations like the United States.

Drones for healthcare

From Kigali, Rwanda to Khartoum, Sudan, drones have found innovative and helpful usages, especially in the realm of healthcare through the supply of medical materials to remote areas, or for quick delivery during emergencies.

In Rwanda, drones are used to supply blood from transfusion centers to areas of need. It takes the drones less than 40 minutes to make the delivery, where if road transport were to be used, it would take over five hours.

In Malawi, drones are used to deliver HIV test kits to remote areas.

Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya also have plans to utilize drones for healthcare purposes.

Drones for agriculture

Drones are also being used for agricultural purposes, including environmental control. The drones are equipped with high definition cameras which can stream a live feed of crops to farmers in real time. They are also programmed with a software that can identify various crop diseases and pests in order to help farmers make timely decisions and prevent potential losses.

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A drone hovering over a maize field

In Sudan, two inventors have developed a farming robot which can fly, assess the land, and plant tree seeds. The duo says their drone is dedicated to fighting desertification.

Drones against poaching

Africa has been plagued with poaching–rhinos and elephants are now facing a strong threat of extinction. To curb poaching, African authorities have resorted to the usage of drones to help monitor game parks in real time. The Kruger National Park in South Africa has been using drones for this purpose since 2015.

In Tanzania, drones are also used to chase elephants into protected areas whenever they stray onto farms. Initially, locals would chase the elephants using crude weapons, a conflict that endangered both themselves and the elephants.

Drones for photography

Drones have become most popular in the image production industry. Photographers can now easily take aerial images, compared to the previous difficult process of using length bound camera masts.

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An aerial photo captured using a drone

In Nigeria, archaeologists have been using drones to monitor excavation sites before venturing into them, thus improving safety standards.

Use of drones by terrorists

While the usage of drones in Africa has mainly been for lawful purposes, not everybody thinks that the drone concept is a good idea. Citing security concerns, experts have warned that armed drones could provide an easy way for mass terror attacks.

In West Africa and Somalia, the U.S. has used armored drones to assassinate high-ranking terrorists. Even though no drone-based terrorist attack has been reported yet, experts say that if strict regulation of drones in Africa is not enacted, it’s just a matter of when not if.

Do you know of other innovative or even potentially harmful drone usages? Tell us in the comments section below!


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Alex Muiruri

Alex is a passionate writer born and raised in Kenya. He is professionally trained as a public health officer but loves writing more. When not writing, he enjoys reading, doing charity work and spending time with friends and family. He is also a crazy pianist!

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