Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Lyela Mutisya: US trained drone pilot using technology to improve Kenyan farms

‘Agriculture is far more than farming—it’s a science,’ says Lyela Mutisya. Always on the go, Lyela stays busy managing the demands of her agritech startup, Agridrone Technologies.

Lyela is a fully certified Part 107 pilot license holder – a Remote Pilot permit that is issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the US and allows one to fly drones commercially. To get licensed, Lyela had to pass some knowledge tests administered by the FAA.

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Lyela was born in Kenya, but a vast majority of her life growing up was spent in the US up to when she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Aviation Administration, with a minor in Unmanned Aircraft Systems in 2017.

Like most career folks in the US, Lyela had always hoped that she’d carry her knowledge back to Kenya. She got to do this during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Her family’s history in Agriculture, especially coffee farming provided the inspiration that she sought for her next move.

On previous occasions, she had travelled to Kenya and got to learn about her father’s life as a coffee farmer, and the woes they faced.

To solve the big elephant in the room, Lyela knew that she’d want to use drone technology to assist farmers in lowering input costs and guarantee margins in their farms.

“I have always been passionate about agriculture, and I was really excited about what technology could do to help farmers in Africa,” she said.

In 2022, she established Agridrone Technologies which works with farmers to collect all relevant plant data from farms.

Her work in Kenya has been well received, assisting with the latest research in crop management, managing forest inventories and other economically viable pursuits.

“We are really a data company that uses drones to collect data,” she laughed.

Despite being in startup mode, the company and Lyela’s aspirations took a while to become operational.

She recalled returning to the country in 2016 to meet some high-profile government officials and share her ideas. All were sceptical of drones, worried they would be used for spying.

“Nobody really knew what drones were or what they were capable of doing. But now, more people are aware of drones and people are now willing to explore this technology.”

Recently, Lyela partnered with the Coffee Research Institute under KALRO to work on UAV projects that can help detect diseases, watering needs and other threats to large tracts of coffee farms.

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“This current project is something I’ve been talking about since I was in America in 2016 – and it’s just something that’s close and dear to my heart. I’m really, really excited to finally do this project,” she added.

While networking is often touted as the silver bullet for entrepreneurs, Lyela’s approach is not only to meet contacts but also to keep them and follow up and stay in their minds.

Lyela finds her work in the agri-tech space fulfilling. Before heading out for farm visits and client meetings, she carefully plans them, considering weather conditions and getting authorization approval from the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA).

“I had to learn the hard way…one thing I always do is check the checklist. I go through and make sure we have batteries charged, have the SD card, that the sensor is ok, and that everything is updated. You don’t want to get into the field and the drone can’t take off because you need to update something.”

“My advice for anybody reading this is that they can achieve anything they want to achieve anywhere in the world. If you have a vision, it doesn’t matter how long it takes to achieve it. I always say delay is not denial-just keep pushing your vision,” Lyela Mutisya urged for her parting shot.

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