Cambodia's first commercial drone company, SM Waypoint, offers farmers an opportunity to protect their health and pocketbooks.
Established by American pilot Jimmy Jacks in 2015, the company consists of seven drone pilots who received specialized training in Australia and Hong Kong. They also have degrees in geology, mining or engineering. He explained that there are different types of drones for different purposes.
"This is a commercial drone," Jacks, the only foreigner on the team, said while pointing to a large device. "It is made for use in agriculture. Underneath the platform you will see this container. The container is for aerial application of fluids. It can contain pesticides, fertilizers, anything you would spray with a human walking through the fields with a pack on his back."
That technology, he added, could be beneficial to farmers who are vulnerable to ingesting the potentially dangerous chemicals associated with pesticides. They often work without sufficient protection.
But abandoning their work because of certain health risks isn't exactly an option. According to the CIA World Factbook, the agriculture industry employs almost half of the working population. That adds up to about three million farmers who work the fields to cultivate rice, rubber and vegetables.
Besides promoting safe farming health practices, the drones circling the Cambodia's sky also help farmers better manage their fields by offering them an aerial view of their crops.
"Our equipment is the latest modern technology that can inspect the crop's health in the fields, allowing farmers to take early corrective action when necessary."
The drones far surpass the toy version in both size and ability. One of them boasts about a 10-foot wingspan and can soar nearly 3,000 feet in the sky.
The technology inside the drones is equally as advanced. A special RGB camera fitted inside one of the larger-sized drones has the ability to capture the amount of infrared and red light emitted by the plants. That allows farmers to more efficiently evaluate the current state of their crops. For instance, when when the camera picks up low amounts of infrared light, it's a sign that the vegetation is in distress.
Syna further explained this technology could help farmers increase their yields by an average of about 10 percent per year.
Those benefits come at a cost, though. SM Waypoint charges $4.50 to analyze one hectare of farmland. That may not be feasible for farmers in places like Cambodia, where, according to the Asian Development Bank, 14 percent of Cambodians live below the national poverty line. And besides high upfront costs, the inventive technology may face backlash among farmers, who are resistant to change their traditional ways.
"It is still a bit difficult for farmers because they do not know how to use drone technology in the agriculture sector yet," said UAV team leader Koeurn Chenda. "They do farming based on the habits learned from generation to generation so using drones here still faces a lot of challenges."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.