Drone-powered early pest and disease detection start-up set to expand

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Aerobotics, a South African agtech start-up that provides early pest and disease detection through drone imagery and artificial intelligence, has raised ZAR250 million (US$16.5 million) during a Series-B investment round led by Naspers Foundry, with participation from the FMO Ventures Program and the Cathay AfricInvest Innovation Fund. The funding will boost international expansion and technological development, as well as support Aerobotics’ local operations.

Aerobotics enables tree and fruit farmers not only to monitor their crops but also to increase their overall yield and reduce their footprint, through a combination of satellite and drone imagery coupled with machine learning algorithms. The company’s end-to-end solution provides farmers with data-driven insights, scout mapping and other tools to mitigate damage to crops from pest and disease. Its cloud-based application – Aeroview – is easy to use and provides actionable insights powered by AI-based analytics, according to the company.

Insect level detail captured by drone

The multispectral cameras Aerobotics attaches to its drones capture farms at an insect-level and inform Aeroview’s software, which automatically identifies problems unseen to the naked eye.

Farmers are then able to view per-tree analytics on their computers, which include health status, chlorophyll levels and canopy area, volume and more. Unhealthy trees are represented by red dots and healthy with green, so that you can see exactly which trees on your farm are underperforming. Once farmers have identified which trees are in trouble, they can mark them and investigate on the ground using Aerobotics’ mobile app, Aeroview InField, which directs scouts to each marker.

Scouts can leave notes, pictures and quantitative information on the app as they go, which the farmer can then view on the Aeroview web-app. From here farmers can make informed decisions on when, where and what to take action against in their orchards. This can range from anything to a pest, disease, deficiency or weather damage.

Increased food security and future growth

With customers located across the world, Aerobotics is active in supporting climate-smart agriculture and helping reduce water usage and farm inputs. By improving the overall yield per hectare, Aerobotics’ precision farming applications contribute to increased food security and the advancement of emerging market farming, helping to reach the standards of developed countries, it says. Over the last year, the company’s technology solution has successfully entered the US market, where it is gaining momentum amongst large-scale tree and fruit farmers.

In addition to its current product offering, Aerobotics is developing a yield prediction model for tree crops, an area that is still lacking a viable technology solution on a global level. The company has already been able to achieve promising accuracy ratios; revolutionising the agriculture industry as we know it.

Initially launched at the end of 2019, Aerobotics’ first yield estimation package was focused on citrus. The package provides accurate reports on fruit size and colour distribution ahead of harvest, as well as other more usual orchard monitoring offerings. Equipped with this data, citrus farmers can gauge the market and optimise marketing and packhouse strategies in preparation for harvest.

And now following its latest round of investment, Aerobotics is set to gain access to a large, international network of agribusinesses in emerging markets, along with support from leading knowledge partners, such as the Wageningen University Research.

I am extremely excited to onboard Aerobotics as a new investment of the FMO Ventures Program alongside our long-standing partners at Cathay Africinvest Innovation Fund,” said Marieke Roestenberg, FMO Ventures program manager. “It is truly inspiring to see Aerobotics, an Africa-born, -grown and -based, tech company develop one of the most promising agtech solutions for farmers active in orchard management globally. At FMO, we are keen to promote its technology among our large network of agribusiness clients in emerging markets with the potential to create a ‘win/win’ scenario for Aerobotics and agribusiness companies alike. The importance of its solutions has been further highlighted in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with agriculture considered globally as critical infrastructure. We look forward to being a valuable partner to the Aerobotics team.”

Yassine Oussaifi, a partner at Cathay AfricInvest Innovation, added: “Starting with its first experiments in a citrus farm in the Cape Region in South Africa, Aerobotics has developed a unique precision agriculture solution, used in more than 18 countries across the globe, to provide valuable insight for farmers and insurance companies. We believe the team has the capacity to grow Aerobotics into a leading technology provider in the agriculture value chain and to bring precise data and accrued efficiencies across the broader industry. Through the Cathay Africinvest Innovation Fund, we look forward to working hand in hand with FMO and Aeorbotics to further scale their innovative agritech solutions across the world.”

Aerobotics is happy to partner with FMO Ventrues and Cathay AfricInvest Innovation to better serve our customers,” concluded James Paterson, co-founder and CEO, Aerobotics. “Our strong relationship, coupled with this latest financial investment, will ensure that we continue to grow agriculture sustainably together. We are a proudly South African business and are proving that Africa can not only compete in technology innovation, but lead at the highest level.

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