The greatest threat to oil palm crops is the Rhinoceros beetle. They attack young plants and can potentially lower a farm's yield for many years. Pesticides must be applied frequently to prevent them from affecting workers' health. Poladrone, based in Kuala Lumpur is a company that aims to revolutionize the way pesticides are used on farms. They use drones, automation, and analytics software.
Wavemaker Partners led the company's $4.29 million seed round. According to Crunchbase data, this is the largest ever seed round in Malaysia. The Malaysian Technology Development Corporation, which is owned by Khazanah Nasional Berhad; ZB Capital Limited; angel investors; are other participants.
Poladrone was founded in 2016 by Cheong Jin Xi. It operates in Malaysia, Thailand, and plans to expand into Indonesia which is the largest producer of oil palms in the world. TechCrunch was told by Cheong Jin Xi that Poladrone has a profitable business, but that they needed funding to cover the COVID-19 pandemic. He also highlighted the positive effects our technology has had on the agriculture community through creating jobs and training opportunities.
The startup grew its workforce from 20 to 80 people in less than a decade to meet the demand. The seed round will be used to hire more people and scale operations. It also plans to build more Service Centers in agricultural regions, where clients can purchase spare parts and equipment.
Cheong was an Australian high school student who became interested in drones. This led him to pursue an engineering degree in aerospace engineering at university.
Cheong returned home to Malaysia and began to look at possible applications of drone technology. He realized that the agriculture industry was the best fit for drone technology because they can fly over large terrains and perform repetitive tasks on their own. Their cameras also capture large amounts of data.
Growing up in Kuala Lipis (an agricultural town in the state, Pahang), Cheong's interest in agritech inspired him. Many of his relatives and family are farmers, so his early insights led to the creation of Poladrones products.
He said that Rhinoceros beetles pose a problem in the first three years after an oil palm's 25-year life cycle. They attack trees, slowing down their growth and sometimes even killing them.
Cheong stated that once oil palms have matured, replanting becomes impossible. This means that any space left over from dead palms will be lost for 22 years. Oil palm farms must spray preventative pesticides every two weeks for the first two year after oil palms have been planted. Then, every month until they mature. Workers can use knapsack sprayers and tractors to do this.
Oryctes was launched by the company in 2020 with support from Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation. It is used for precise spot spraying of pests such as rhinoceros beetles. Mist Drone blanket sprays open-field crops like bananas, paddies, and corn.
Most oil palm farms Poladrone has worked with are of medium-to-large scale, approximately 5,000 hectares or more. Cheong stated that farms can benefit from data analytics and automation once they reach such a large scale. Cheong said that oil palm farms are spread over 18.7 million hectares worldwide, and that Poladrone has a serviceable market of 4.2million hectares in Malaysia, which is worth more than $1.3 billion annually. The company plans to expand its reach to other crops like sugarcane, rice, and corn.
Poladrones Service Centers sell its products and also offer repairs, training, workshops, and other services with the aim of increasing drone adoption. Cheong stated that it takes approximately one week for workers to learn how to use Poladrones equipment. The device can also be operated using smartphones.
Gavin Lee, Wavemaker Partners general partnership, stated that Poladrone is now working with eight of the 10 largest palm oil farms in Malaysia. This impressive feat gives us confidence to support the team's vision of propelling Southeast Asia's agriculture industry.