Sugar industry exploring use of drone technology to boost productivity
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A drone being tested by GuySuCo
A drone being tested by GuySuCo

THE Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) has commenced an evaluation of the use of drone technology, an e-smart agricultural initiative, as part of its strategy to modernise the operations of the sugar industry.

This move by GuySuCo is aimed at advancing the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of its operations in wake of the numerous challenges as a result of the rapid labour force attrition, and climate and demographical changes which the industry is experiencing.

A statement from GuySuCo quoted the company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Sasenarine Singh, as saying the corporation is leaning towards the use of e-smart agriculture as a mechanism to retain and attract young people to the industry.

“…half of a per cent of the workforce in the fields are not coming back, which means that in 10 years’ time about five per cent of the workforce in the field is going to disappear, a concern we are moving to address urgently,” he said.

At GuySuCo’s operating estates in Regions Three, Five, and Six, there is a continuous decline of available manpower for critical field operations, especially in the area of chemical weed control, where there is a shortfall in manpower requirement by 70 per cent.

This affects significantly the control of noxious weeds which impact negatively on sugar cane yield. The other objective for technological advancement is to attract younger individuals who are “tech savvy.”

Apart from the labour deficit, Singh said that the ongoing demographical changes in communities surrounding GuySuCo’s estates have expanded the ‘no fly’ zones, resulting in the corporation’s inability to conduct effective aerial reconnaissance and maintenance of its cultivations using the traditional Crop Duster aircraft.

It is anticipated that on completion of the current evaluation of the drone application method, there could be a review of the ‘no fly’ zones by the Pesticide and Toxic Chemical Control Board (PTCCB); this will enhance GuySuCo’s capability to address weed infestation and maximise the use of ripeners.

Added to this, the increasing challenges of climate change inhibit GuySuCo’s ability to monitor and evaluate its field operations, especially in areas where access is limited as a result of the high cost for the use of aircraft reconnaissance.

This was demonstrated during the recent unprecedented floods in Region Six (East Berbice- Corentyne), which resulted in the corporation’s largest cultivation and sugar producing estate, Albion/ Port Mourant, being inundated for over 65 days.

During this period, the corporation was limited in its ability to traverse the cultivation to ascertain the magnitude of the damages incurred and take timely action to mitigate the impact where possible.

Adopting the use of drone technology would reduce the laborious physical assessments and provide frequent and high-resolution data of crops and field conditions which are vital for the transformation of the Sugar Industry.

Singh said: “Generation X wants to do drones and high-tech utilisation of technology in agriculture and I want to say that funding for this project was approved by the National Assembly. Through the support and intervention of the Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha, GuySuCo is now working along with the experts from the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) to further develop the use of drones.”

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