The Use of Unmanned Aerial Systems for Agriculture in Africa

Can It Fly?

by Shira Efron

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Food security in Africa is an imminent threat. However, the agricultural expansion required to feed Africa's growing population is expected to have detrimental environmental impacts. Policymakers are looking for technologies to boost agricultural yields in Africa in more efficient and environmentally sustainable ways. Unmanned aerial systems (UAS), commonly known for military uses, offer promise. Using a mixed-method approach, this interdisciplinary dissertation examines the feasibility — technical and non-technical — of adopting agricultural UAS in Africa. Specifically, I investigated if and how UAS might mitigate the damage borne by the Tsetse Fly and the Red-Billed Quelea, both pests endemic to Africa that are associated with tremendous losses and have adverse impact on food security. Further, I identified drivers and barriers to agricultural UAS adoption and modeled these factors to infer variation in the likelihood that 36 African countries successfully adopt this technology. The results of my research indicate that while UAS offer a potential solution to some of Africa's most pressing agricultural problems, there are several non-technical factors that policy-makers should consider when evaluating initiatives to adopt this technology. Barriers include cost, absence of infrastructure, regulation and public resistance. Drivers on the other hand include support from stakeholders and UAS' potential to draw African youth to join the agriculture sector. Based on these findings, I recommend that policymakers perform mission-fit analysis to determine the suitability of UAS for the agricultural mission of interest and examine its costs and benefits. If UAS is found compatible and cost-effective, policymakers should lower the barriers and capitalize on the drivers that may influence the success of this technology's adoption.

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This document was submitted as a dissertation in August 2015 in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the doctoral degree in public policy analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. The faculty committee that supervised and approved the dissertation consisted of Jeanne Ringel (Chair), Dave Baiocchi, and Brien Alkire.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Dissertation series. Pardee RAND dissertations are produced by graduate fellows of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, the world's leading producer of Ph.D.'s in policy analysis. The dissertations are supervised, reviewed, and approved by a Pardee RAND faculty committee overseeing each dissertation.

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