Omani firm ready to deploy drones against locusts

MUSCAT, MARch 8 – An Omani tech start-up whose innovative drone-based expertise is being harnessed by local authorities in the sustainable implementation of the landmark One Million Dates Palm Trees Project, says it is ready to support the government in combating desert locust infestations of the kind that had swept across the Sultanate in recent weeks. Wakan Tech, a wholly Omani-owned firm, says its fleet of drones can be suitably customised for rapid deployment in the fight against the locust swarms, which experts warn will be a recurrent threat to the Sultanate and the wider region in light of changing weather patterns and global warming.
“We are awaiting permission from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to conduct trials to demonstrate the effectiveness of drones in the fight against locust swarms,” said Eng Younis al Siyabi (pictured), CEO – Wakan Tech. “Based on our studies, drones can be a cost-competitive and effective alternative to light aircraft typically deployed in spraying activities.”
As recently as last week, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries had revealed that it was still combating the last vestiges of desert locust infestations which, for the first time in recent memory, had also spread through Muscat Governorate and other urban areas of the Sultanate. Experts have attributed unseasonal rains and climate change for the outbreak, which has since spread across the Middle East, Africa and the Asian continent as well.
Wakan Tech’s fleet of drones is currently placed at the disposal of the Diwan of Royal Court in the swift and effective pollination of the palm trees that form part of the One Million Date Palm Trees Project.
Around six drones are deployed at any one time spraying a mix of pollen as they fly from tree to tree – a process that began last year, according to Al Siyabi. “Drones can achieve the same results as traditional pollination methods, but ten times faster. With a drone, it takes about two seconds to pollinate a tree, as against about 20 minutes per tree if it’s done traditionally,” he said.
Fitted out with larger tanks for pesticides, these drones can be deployed against locust swarms as well, says the co-founder of Wakan Tech. “Depending about what range you have in mind, you can install tanks with capacities ranging from 10 to 200 litres of pesticides. When deployed in ‘swarm mode’, these drones can fan out over large distances and cover wide areas, delivering the same results as aerial-spraying aircrafts but at a fraction of the cost.”
A pioneer in the use of drone technology for industrial agriculture, Wakan Tech is also offering its unrivalled expertise in plant health and soil monitoring, and targeted spraying, among other applications. It is the first company to be certified by the CAA for commercial drone piloting. The government-owned Oman Technology Fund (OTF) is an investor in Wakan Tech.