A systematic review of UAV applications for mapping neglected and underutilised crop species’ spatial distribution and health
Timely, accurate spatial information on the health of neglected and underutilised crop species (NUS) is critical for optimising their production and food and nutrition in developing countries. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) equipped with multispectral sensors have significantly advanced remote sensing, enabling the provision of near-real-time data for crop analysis at the plot level in small, fragmented croplands where NUS are often grown. The objective of this study was to systematically review the literature on the remote sensing (RS) of the spatial distribution and health of NUS, evaluating the progress, opportunities, challenges, and associated research gaps. This study systematically reviewed 171 peer-reviewed articles from Google Scholar, Scopus, and Web of Science using the PRISMA approach. The findings of this study showed that the United States (n = 18) and China (n = 17) were the primary study locations, with some contributions from the Global South, including southern Africa. The observed NUS crop attributes included crop yield, growth, leaf area index (LAI), above-ground biomass (AGB), and chlorophyll content. Only 29% of studies explored stomatal conductance and the spatial distribution of NUS. Twenty-one studies employed satellite-borne sensors, while only eighteen utilised UAV-borne sensors in conjunction with machine learning (ML), multivariate, and generic GIS classification techniques for mapping the spatial extent and health of NUS. The use of UAVs in mapping NUS is progressing slowly, particularly in the Global South, due to exorbitant purchasing and operational costs, as well as restrictive regulations. Subsequently, research efforts must be directed toward combining ML techniques and UAV-acquired data to monitor NUS’ spatial distribution and health to provide necessary information for optimising food production in smallholder croplands in the Global South.