Africa’s infrastructure has always been several steps behind its citizens’ quest for progress. Terrain ranges from rainforest to mountains, and deserts to wilderness. And the roads, where they exist, are badly maintained, potholed and precarious.
Maintaining any kind of regimented, reliable supply chain is a chaotic, challenging enterprise, leaving businesses to pick up the costs, and citizens without access to essentials for weeks at a time.
While investment continues into flagship projects such as Kenya’s new airport, this is not matched with investments into transportation links, especially in remote and rural areas.
And although these problems are not uniquely African, the standout solutions now emerging most definitely are. New African tech startups are using the latest drones to bypass legacy issues, fast tracking everything from deliveries to reforestation.
Ghana 2027. The skies are buzzing with thousands of drones, delivering vital medical supplies, essential engineering parts and sensitive company materials.
This is the vision of Ghana-based company Continental Drones Ltd; an army of fast, reliable and affordable delivery drones, ready to deploy on a mass scale and revolutionise African logistics.
Together with German drone delivery pioneer Wingcopter, the Ghanaian company has just signed an agreement to produce 12,000 drones for deliveries across the African continent over the next five years. As well as improving logistics and supply chains, the company is also confident that they can boost the countries’ economic development by connecting communities more effectively and creating new job opportunities focused on operating these delivery networks.
Ghana is the testing ground, as the company wants to produce and deploy 12,000 Wingcopter 198s, the ‘world’s most advanced delivery drone’ in 49 African countries.
‘These drone-based delivery networks offer a real chance to fuel economic development and help improve the livelihood of millions. African nations show true leadership by implementing this cutting-edge technology for the better of their people and generations to come’ Alexander Asiedu, founder of Continental Drones Ltd.
In other areas of Africa, smaller, localised drone programmes are already bringing huge benefits to the local community.
In Rwanda, the government has partnered with drone company Zipline Rwanda, to help pig farmers with a delicate logistical and travel issue during breeding season.
Across Rwanda, breeding pigs can be a headache for smallholders who often have to travel several kilometres to hire a male stud or collect pig semen. At present, both swine semen, and the pigs themselves, are transported between farmsteads, often to and from extremely remote areas.
Thanks to the drone delivery system, a pig farmer can order the semen, and a veterinarian can then inseminate their pig, instead of incurring the cost of keeping the boar which is both expensive and can cause a risk of disease [as it mates many sows].
According to Zipwire, it takes around 45 minutes for a drone to deliver pig semen from Muhanga District to Nyamasheke District – a distance of about 180 km, which would usually take over three hours by car.
Zipline Rwanda claims to be able to operate up to 28 drones at a time, with each drone capable of carrying up to 2kg each, and can even deliver the packages without landing (negating the need for a runway).
As well as logistics and transportation, farmers have also welcomed the opportunity to be more selective about the quality of livestock (as previous generations needed to rely upon a smaller genetic group to breed from). Pig breeders can now select pure pig breeds from Europe, thereby diversifying the gene pool and helping to secure the future of their livestock.
‘We’ve delivered over one million COVID-19 vaccines to more than one thousand health dosing centres; the first such national scale delivery of COVID-19 vaccines in the world’. Catherine Odiase, general manager of Zipline Nigeria.
The Kaduna region of Nigeria has partnered with the international branch of Zipline to deliver essential medical and consumer items across Kaduna, a partnership that has seen rapid success and development since it started in June 2022.
Kaduna is increasingly the epicentre of violence in Nigeria, rivaling Borno state, the home turf of Boko Haram. In rural areas, conflicts over water and land use are escalating, and Ansaru, a less prominent Islamist group, is active. Vaccine drone drops have helped establish secure and regular supply lines that are harder to intercept or influence by subversive groups.
Odiase said the Kaduna project, which serves a population of 10 million, has been the most successful, because of the level of co-operation and enthusiasm that has come from multiple departments and parties – the company, the local government and healthcare departments.
The drone service has also made an instant impact in other African states, recently expanding rapidly in Ghana to meet demand, scaling from serving 160 facilities in 2019 to nearly 2,300 today. In that time, Zipline Ghana has flown 13 million miles and delivered more than five million doses of vaccines, in addition to blood products and other essential medicines.
‘Our partnership with Zipline has played a vital role in Ghana’s robust administration of COVID-19 vaccines to combat the pandemic and foster healthier communities,’ Dr. Patrick Kuma-Aboagye Director General of Ghana Health Service,
These initiatives demonstrate that drones can provide innovative solutions to many of Africa’s complex infrastructure, logistics and supply problems, helping new businesses and rural communities alike.
The delivery of vital supplies has already transformed health access in rural Ghana, and this looks set to be the first of many ‘instant solutions’ that drones can offer. Security tracking, climate change monitoring, and even humanitarian food aid delivery are just a few of the other trials currently underway.
Will this short-term success herald a new dawn for African communities and connectivity?