Prospects of improving agricultural and water productivity through unmanned aerial vehicles

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are an alternative to costly and time-consuming traditional methods to improve agricultural water management and crop productivity through the acquisition, processing, and analyses of high-resolution spatial and temporal crop data at field scale. UAVs mounted with multispectral and thermal cameras facilitate the monitoring of crops throughout the crop growing cycle, allowing for timely detection and intervention in case of any anomalies. The use of UAVs in smallholder agriculture is poised to ensure food security at household level and improve agricultural water management in developing countries. This review synthesises the use of UAVs in smallholder agriculture in the smallholder agriculture sector in developing countries. The review highlights the role of UAV derived normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI) in assessing crop health, evapotranspiration, water stress and disaster risk reduction. The focus is to provide more accurate statistics on irrigated areas, crop water requirements and to improve water productivity and crop yield. UAVs facilitate access to agro-meteorological information at field scale and in near real-time, important information for irrigation scheduling and other on-field decision-making. The technology improves smallholder agriculture by facilitating access to information on crop biophysical parameters in near real-time for improved preparedness and operational decision-making. Coupled with accurate meteorological data, the technology allows for precise estimations of crop water requirements and crop evapotranspiration at high spatial resolution. Timely access to crop health information helps inform operational decisions at the farm level, and thus, enhancing rural livelihoods and wellbeing.