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India allows drone-based pesticide spraying

05 May 2022 IHS Markit Agribusiness Expert

India's Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers' Welfare has issued an interim two-year approval for drone-based spraying of almost all pesticides registered in the country. The decision was communicated through a memorandum and follows the country releasing a standard operating procedure (SOP) involving the use of drones for the application of pesticides in agriculture, forestry and non-cropped areas late last year.The approval has been effective from April 18th.

The Ministry notes that the pesticides cleared for drone-based spraying have undergone safety and efficacy evaluations and are already being applied by growers using other methods. They include insecticides, fungicides, plant growth regulators (PGRs), biopesticides and botanical pesticides. The list includes 479 formualtions containing single active ingredient as well as combination products.

Registrants seeking to undertake such operations are required to communicate details of the products, dosage, intended crops, and plan for data generation to India's Central Insecticide Board and Registration Committee (CIB&RC). To continue using drones beyond the two-year interim approval, they are required to generate data supporting their application during that period and get such data approved by the CIB&RC.

Stepping stones

While the civilian use of drones in India is regulated under a strict set of guidelines, the idea of using drones in agriculture had gained traction over the past couple of years with the domestic agrochemical industry urging the government to design a policy. As a first step in the direction, India conditionally allowed the deployment of drones to tackle an unprecedented infestation of desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) in 2020. A preliminary framework was believed to be in the offing when in November that year India-based research centre, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT - Hyderabad), was granted "conditional exemption" for six months to conduct agricultural research using drones.

This was followed by the country's Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers' Welfare getting permission from the Indian civil aviation watchdog, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), in February 2021 to use drones for capturing images of rice and wheat fields in 100 districts for insurance surveys. The biggest impetus came with the government initiating a dialogue with stakeholders in June last year following the publication of a consultation paper on the country's national digital agriculture ecosystem, dubbed the IDEA (India Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture).

In the run-up to the SOP being published, Chennai-based drone manufacturer Garuda Aerospace revealed plans to manufacture 1,000 drones for use in the country's agriculture sector. The company delivered the first batch of 100 drones in February this year.

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This article was published by S&P Global Commodity Insights and not by S&P Global Ratings, which is a separately managed division of S&P Global.

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