SINGAPORE: Flying drones may be a popular hobby for many, but in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia they are increasingly being used in the fight against deforestation and illegal land clearing.
One Singapore company that provides drone services said many large palm oil plantations already have their own drones, and now medium-sized plantations are following suit.
Palm oil plantations in Sumatra stretch across millions of hectares, and companies have traditionally deployed helicopters and manpower to monitor these plantations. But recently, drones have taken to the skies for these companies to assess the well-being of trees and map out routes for infrastructure, such as new roads.
Palm oil trader Cargill said it is also using drones to monitor fires that occur near its plantations. The fires are often caused by illegal land clearing methods and have been the source of the regional haze problem for decades.
Going forward, Cargill plans to use drones to identify protected forests, commonly known as high carbon stock areas.
“The Palm Oil Manifesto Group has a high carbon stock evaluation and study that is going on. That includes a remote sensing component. We want to be able to use the outcome of that work expected to be completed by this year, and combine with ability to use drones, so we can work with others in the industry in identifying high carbon stock areas and helping overall industry to delink deforestation from agriculture,” said Mr John Hartmann, Chief Executive Officer, Cargill.
In April, Cargill sent its staff for training to fly these drones, and to expand the use of drones into other areas.
Large palm oil companies like Cargill may have been among the first to use drones in their operations, and now mid-sized plantations are following suit.
A local drone company Channel NewsAsia spoke with said these plantations may also be using the data to indirectly monitor haze hotspots.
“Generally, we do not get direct requests to say ‘Please monitor our land for illegal land clearing’, because a lot of them have to work with their local partners. They do not do all the planting themselves. They have a lot of local farmers who do the planting and they advise them on what are some of the best practices,” said Mr Ong Jiin Joo, Co-founder of Garuda Robotics.
“The drones provide them with an extra piece of information on what their local partners are doing, and they will take if from there rather than saying it is the purpose of the drones,” he said.
Currently, local law enforcement agencies in Indonesia rely on satellite images to help them identify hotspots, but delays in receiving information and poor resolution of images mean they, too, could be turning to drones as the drones can fly close to hotspots, said Mr Ong.