FAO and World Bank experiences in using drones for improving governance

FAO and World Bank met to share experiences in using drones for improving governance and support to developmental projects. The seminar was recently held in Rome at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO of the United Nations) on the 28th of October, 2016.

The purpose of this seminar was to share common experiences by FAO and the World Bank in using drones and available technologies in disaster management, agriculture and in sustainable development. The seminar had four presentations which were followed by a discussion that centred on the needs and opportunities of using drones and related technologies within the context of agricultural development.

Highlights of the Presentations

The session was opened by Ms. Marcela Villarreal, Director, Partnerships, Advocacy and Capacity Development Division from FAO. Ms. Marcela Villarreal’s speech enumerated the progress made in the use of technologies in achieving sustainable development. She highlighted that modern technologies are able to reach areas that were never accessed by other types of innovation – for example she alluded to how cell phones have penetrated previously inaccessible areas.

In this light, she premised that drones (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) had a potential to surpass the cell phones in penetrating the inaccessible terrains and, furthermore, drones are useful in data gathering. She noted that FAO and Google partnered to make remote sensing data more efficient and accessible. This is one of the many commitments and strides by FAO to use technologies towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals.

Four presentations where then held;

The first presentation was by Mr. Kiran Viparthi, from FAO and was entitled, Introduction to Drones and Drones experience in disaster assessment. This debut talk demystified what drones are, and included a live demonstration of a drone and its features. The presentation focused on how drones have been used within the agricultural domain, in mapping land use and disaster management. The story of how drones were used after the disaster caused by ‘tropical storm Erika’ in Dominica was presented.

Ms. Rumyana Tonchovska, from FAO followed with a presentation entitled, “Technology in Support of Securing Property Rights: Unmanned Aerial Systems. This stimulating presentation shared the experiences of using drones for mapping property boundaries on the ground and comparing them with official land map records. In this project drones were used in Albania, where citizens were engaged in defining the physical land boundaries. The crowd sourced information obtained from drones and settlers was used to verify with legal office to establish property rights.

The second presentation was by Ms. Kathrine Kelm, from the World Bank which had the theme, UAS+…Integrating UAS technology with other data and services in Kosovo”. This presentation focused on how drones were used to collect data and how this data was used in land management. In the past two decades many cities in Kosovo have experienced rapid and unplanned urban expansion, illegal constructions and resultant informal settlements. 

The presentation explained how the automatic geocoder addressing service, what3words was used to offer affected communities addresses. Kathrine highlighted a number of challenges in data processing, which included bulk data processing, issues of personal privacy, data protection and use, amongst the many challenges in data processing.

The third presentation was a joint effort by Ms. Serena Fortuna and Ms. Emma Jessie McGhie from FAO had the following theme, Indigenous communities in Panama and the use of drones to track land use…. The duos’ talk explained the community forest monitoring project supported by FAO involving the Ministry of Environment in Panama and indigenous authorities. 

FAO through the UN-REDD programme is providing training and technical support for the indigenous communities in remote sensing and using drones for forest monitoring. The presenters explained in depth the capacity building activities for indigenous people which included the design of flight plans, drone assembly and maneuvering, field data collection, image processing and high resolution mapping.

The final presentation was an electrifying one entitled, Collecting land use data from drones’ imageryby Mr. Marcelo Rezende and Mr Alfonso Sanchez Paus Diaz from FAO. This talk focused on the Open Foris initiative. Open Foris is a set of free and open-source software tools that facilitates flexible and efficient data collection, analysis and reporting. The team demonstrated how Open Foris platform is used to collect data from drones’ imagery. The Collect Earth System was reviewed. 

Each presentation was allocated 15 minutes, thereafter, the chair invited questions from the participants.