‘Nothing to Lose’: The Drone Farming Revolution Is Coming to China

November 8, 2019, 10:36 AM UTC

Small scale Chinese agriculture has remained remarkably the same for thousands of years. Today, a big change might be coming from the skies.

At the Fortune Global Tech Forum on Friday, Justin Gong, co-founder of XAG, a Guangzhou-based drone company that specializes in working with small-scale farmers, discussed how his company’s drones help farmers monitor their crops, distribute seeds, and fertilize more efficiently. According to Gong, XAG now has 42,000 drones flying over 1.2 million flights every day.

“We are facing a very big challenge, which is population explosion against land degradation,” said Gong. “[But] small farmers hold the key of the future, for food diversification, for biodiversity, for sustainability, so we need to help farmers rise with consumers, I think technology can help with that.”

As more higher-end technology becomes affordable to a mass audience, technology start-ups like XAG are able to provide cutting-edge technology to populations that previously wouldn’t have had access to it.

Gong said that the farmers he works with have actually been extremely eager to adopt the new technology because they “have nothing to lose,” and he hopes that his work will also build the transparency and connections between farmers and the people they serve.

“We are changing the tools being used for thousands of years,” Gong said. “By building this bridge, this connection [between tech and farmers], a lot of things are happening in Chinese villages… we can improve the quality of food and help build transparency.”

Gong’s company has also been quick to incorporate and adopt new technologies. A.I., for example, is helping farmers more easily pilot their drones.

The idea for Gong’s company came while he was working in documentary filmmaking, and needed a drone camera that wasn’t on the market at the time. He realized that this emerging technology would have a far more important impact in the agricultural world than in filmmaking.

Since then, he has long pursued a strategy of prioritizing the real world impacts of new technology, and how it can be democratized to improve infrastructure.

Geoffrey Prentice, who co-founded Skype and now helps run Oriente, a fintech start up attempting to build digital financial systems for markets in southeast Asia, similarly believes that focus needs to shift from the technologies we produce, to how they are actually utilized on the ground.

“Don’t focus on the technology, focus on solving a real problem,” Prentice said. “When you are helping people on that fundamental level, it’s real, real fun thing to do.

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