Drones will give a $100-bn boost to India’s GDP and will provide jobs to lakhs, according to the latest World Economic Forum (WEF) report. The WEF report, ‘Using Technology to Improve a Billion Livelihoods’, says India’s push for tech-led transformation in agriculture, with support from emerging business models like digital financing, precision agriculture, will lead to a 1%-1.5% boost in GDP. The new industry is also expected to create at least 5,00,000 jobs in the coming years.

The report, written by the WEF’s Centre for Fourth Industrial Revolution, India, with Adani Group, was launched in Gandhinagar today. It highlights studies that say there’s an immense potential for improving agricultural outcomes for farms through precision agriculture expertise. This, as per the report, can enable a 15% increase in productivity in India’s $600 billion agriculture sector. “Scaling drones in the agriculture sector will also boost farm mechanisation and nudge India closer to global peers.”

India’s “bold and measured” approach to spur unmanned aviation has been celebrated across a wide spectrum of stakeholders, says Vignesh Santhanam, WEF project lead in aerospace and drones for India. “Arguably, aviation is one of the most regulated sectors globally. To make the most of this regulatory landscape, drones must be part of the core agri-equipment repertoire alongside tractors, cultivators, ploughs, diggers and combine harvesters to fortify our farms.”

Notably, the Centre had notified a PLI scheme for drones and drone components on September 30, 2021. Under this, incentives worth ₹120 crore are spread over three financial years. The PLI rate is 20% of the value addition, which is one of the highest among other PLI schemes.

A total of 37 companies, including Adani's joint venture with Israeli firm Elbit Systems, IdeaForge Technology, Chennai-based Garuda Aerospace and Zerodha co-founder Nithin Kamath-backed Omnipresent Robot, have been selected under the PLI Scheme .

The WEF report examines how civil-military convergence can accelerate research to benefit civil society applications. It highlights different use cases for drones in agriculture such as crop monitoring, collecting data for advisory and application of farm inputs.

In addition, given the nascent state of the drone sector and significant import dependence on key components, there is a need to build a robust local support system, says the report. This can include a “Made in India” supply chain, targeted skill development programmes, next-gen digital financing mechanisms and strong awareness-building programmes for Farmer Producer Organisations, Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), farmers and policymakers.

The mainstreaming of drones in agri needs to be aided with the creation of a “green microcosm”. Under this, an integrated “drone-centric rural hub” needs to be set up and stabilised across crop cycles. The microcosm would be a controlled environment. It’ll test varied use cases pertinent to agriculture and other rural applications.

India has taken a lead to establish several forward-looking policies to make it a drone hub of the world by 2030, says Ashish Rajvanshi, CEO, Adani Defence & Aerospace. “The cross-industry application of drones is nearly limitless and continues to make great strides. It offers countries like ours the opportunity to leapfrog generations of infrastructure, healthcare, logistics, agriculture and defence advancements and break several process barriers.”

Further, considering the complexity of India’s agri system, including different agro climatic zones, range of crop varieties, despaired use of irrigation techs, drones’ integration in Indian agriculture can be achieved with form factor of drones and mission-based approach with stakeholders.

“Drone costs fall significantly with local scale. There are multiple use cases on the same drone that can be achieved with a quick switch of payloads – from spraying to broadcasting to logistics. Creating local hubs where these applications can be deployed at scale can establish the business case and help players grow rapidly,” says Rangarajan Vijayaraghavan, vice-president strategy & chairman office, Adani Group.

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