New technology offers us a chance to enhance surveillance to protect the forest.
Kirisia forest located in Samburu County is a perfect spot for the pilot having experienced serious degradation due to human encroachment, illegal logging and trade in illegal wood. This is exacerbated by forest fires started by honey harvesters and poaching of wildlife. Despite recent advances in laws to crack down on these activities (the KCAA RPAS draft regulations are a great improvement from the previous laws), the impact has been minimal.
However, new technology offers us a chance to enhance surveillance to protect the forest.
FAO Kenya, in collaboration with the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), intends to introduce drones in monitoring forest health and activities in Kirisia, Samburu County on a pilot basis to ascertain its efficiency and effectiveness in enhancing surveillance. Back in February, FAO (under the auspices of Kenya Flying Labs (KFL)) convened a three-day practical workshop dubbed ‘Drones Dialogue’ to learn from industry players and better understand UAV capabilities. The workshop enabled consensus on critical drone specifications as determined by both KFS, KWS and FAO to be deployed in management of the forest under the GEF 6 project.
The workshop objectives included:
- Evaluating the most appropriate approach for piloting forest health monitoring to detect anomalies with respect to illegal forest harvesting, fires and disease outbreaks;
- Establishing early warning and early action approaches to forest management with respect to forest health and fires outbreaks;
- Enhancing monitoring and forecasting capacities with respect to forest health surveillance by availing actionable data for targeted and evidence based response; and
- Exploring options for sustainable drone operation in Kenya with possible business models
Kenya Flying Labs helped connect the workshop convener to industry experts and practitioners working with drones in Kenya, including MapTech Kenya, Upande and Astral Aviation, who demonstrated practical use cases for drones in agriculture, cargo, and surveillance.
Kenya Flying Labs specifically demonstrated the use of drones in forestry:
- Mapping and survey;
- Use of AI and ML in tracking and identifying issues such as, illegal logging, counting trees, charcoal burning, etc.;
- Use of drones in establishing forest health; and
- Empowering forest rangers with drone technology for forest management and surveillance.
Use of drones will introduce real time monitoring to enable appropriate mitigation by law enforcement agencies to drastically reduce the negative impact on ecosystem services in the forest, a key lifeline of livelihoods in the county.
It also exposed other critical sectors to the potential for this technology in Agriculture, Livestock, Environment, Wildlife Census, Disaster & Risk Management and Research. Key stakeholders from each sector shared their experiences, detailed their own drone capacities and charted a systematic way forward on adoption of this technology for various use cases.
Kenya Flying Labs also had the drones dialogue workshop conducted in Machakos, an area outside of Nairobi, where they intend to create a drone corridor in Kenya for drone testing and training grounds, assembly, repair and maintenance programs.
In the months ahead, KFL will work with the project partners during the pilot phase to mentor and incubate the program into maturity before it’s handed over to the Kenya Forest Services. The team will be conducting a series of trainings on the safe use of drones, the drone pilot code of conduct, data management, and AI and ML integration in drone work.