VIDEO: Air Fanaka

Behold Air Fanaka – Mali’s newest airline – whose slogan is watching over you.

Their latest advert below shows how you can travel in comfort and style over the fields and rural communities of this West African nation.

OK, so I’m exaggerating a tad, and this is just a mock trailer for an imaginary airline.

In reality, Air Fanaka is simply the moniker I’ve given to the drone I’ve been using to capture the harvesting activity of several farmers in Fana – a small village just a few hours from the bustling capital Bamako.

This all-seeing craft was christened in honour of Radio Fanaka, a rural radio station that’s working with Canada’s Farm Radio International to produce a six-part reality series on agriculture.

Daba Kamalen (or “Best Farmer” in Bambara) follows the trials and tribulations of six candidates as they try their hands at agriculture. Using innovative hard- and software, listener in rural communities can phone in their votes for their favourite candidates after each bi-weekly episode.

The aims of the program are twofold: to promote a profession often regarded as backward by today’s youth, and to encourage entrepreneurism in rural communities.

I’m working with Farm Radio and Radio Fanaka for two months, and I wanted to find a unique way to document the show’s production.

And how best to capture something as vast as say the harvesting of a cornfield? How can you capture aerial views, or that third dimension, in videojournalism without the resources and crew of National Geographic or BBC?

Well, the solution was surprisingly simple – nowadays UAVs (or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for those not already in the know) are surprisingly affordable, ready-to-fly and can easily fit a small, durable camera like a GoPro.

Admittedly, using an UAV in the middle-of-nowhere Mali is easier than doing so in Canada or the UK, where usage is highly regulated.

But in Fana, no-one cares, and I’ve been able to capture aerial footage of maize harvesters, cattle, villages and even zooming down from the sky to focus on young farmers.

There have been teething problems however, and I’m considering putting together a highlight reel of some of the mishaps Air Fanaka’s had. These have included crash landings into trees, people, and pits, and even a rotor coming unattached during one flight.

Lack of satellite coverage has also nullified the GPS function which would normally safely land the UAV automatically if the batteries running low or another error was detected.

But regardless Air Fanaka has allowed me, as a journalist, to get unique aerial footage of Malian agriculture on a tight budget.

And it seems great minds think alike – the BBC has just started using its very own “hexacopter”.