Agri dep’t seeking to tap drones for disaster damage validation

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THE Department of Agriculture (DA) is seeking to establish a drone technology center with the help of universities, in order to map disaster-prone areas and facilitate faster field validation of damage caused to agriculture by calamities.

“We have an idea that there should be a fleet of drones or additional UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) units in every region, so that if there is a need to validate a vast area, neighboring regions or provinces can work together,” Christopher V. Morales, Chief of the DA Field Programs Operational Planning Division (FPOPD), said in a statement on Monday.

“This (project) will be in collaboration with the DA Information and Communications Technology Service (ICTS) and state universities and colleges will possibly be tapped to be our partners,” Mr. Morales added.

Mr. Morales noted that a 50-hectare field can be covered by a quadcopter in 25 minutes, while a 300-hectare field can be covered by a single-engine fixed-wing drone in an hour.

A twin-engine fixed-wing drone, meanwhile, can cover 800 hectares in an hour and a half, and can monitor areas 15 kilometers from base.

“We started in 2015 and 2016 (with the drone initiative) and we were aggressive in organizing training sessions in 2017 and 2018. In fact, in 2017, we held a modular training on DRRM (Disaster Risk Reduction Management) which focuses on database management, geographic information systems, how to fly and operate drones, and analysis of remote sensing and satellite images with the field offices and attached bureaus and agencies,” Mr. Morales said.

He also said that drones were used to assess the damage of typhoons Lawin and Nina in 2016, Vinta in 2017 and Ompong in 2018.

Mr. Morales, however, said that with the limited funding, DA cannot immediately validate conditions in a very large area of 1.2 million hectares.

Currently, out of the 16 regional field offices (RFOs), two have a twin-engine fixed wing vehicle, while 10 RFOs have a single-engine fixed-wing vehicles, and all RFOs have quadcopters. — Reicelene Joy N. Ignacio