How agritech can help farming during the pandemic
ABU DHABI | May El Habachi
The agritech market is expected to experience a post-COVID boom as startups introduce new technologies and solutions to help farmers and individuals source food locally in a more efficient manner.
In April this year, the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) poured $100 million into four agritech companies in the emirate, while UAE-based Pure Harvest secured $100 million for future expansion, making it MENA’s largest investments to date in this niche. Recently, Jordan also saw the launch of its first agritech accelerator, HASSAD.
“Agritech is all about using resources more efficiently and making an impact in terms of yields and business,” says Jonathan Reyes, co-founder and CEO of Jordan-based Tulua.
TURNING PROBLEMS INTO OPPORTUNITIES
As the most water-scarce region on Earth, the Middle East faces unique challenges in agriculture. Home to 6% of the global population, it only has 1% of the world’s fresh water resources, according to a recent World Bank report.
“Water alone is a big factor in how I see agritech impacting Middle Eastern agricultural challenges,” Reyes says. “With 75% to 85% or more of its water being lost to poor watering techniques, we have to find another way.”
Indeed, Tulua has discovered a way to conserve water and increase production using aquaponics. According to Permaculture Research Institute, this system combines aquaculture (farming fish and other aquatic animals) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil). Plants are fed the waste of aquatic creatures, in return cleaning the water that goes back to the fish.
“You can grow whatever you need to eat in a single system,” Reyes notes.
While aquaponics is emerging as a sustainable farming method, Tulua is introducing it to individuals, families and communities in Jordan.
“Tulua is for everyone,” according to Reyes. “We want to empower people by helping them design and implement systems that can liberate their community. By decentralising farms, we are able to cut back on long transit routes and localise the exchange of money. This greatly stimulates micro-economies and gives local communities more independent sources of income and food.”
Tulua aims to make farming more resilient, especially during challenging times, like the current coronavirus pandemic.
“Our goal is not to replace traditional agriculture. We are just increasing our resiliency and diversifying the revenue streams for communities. However, we do want to help challenge the traditional farming methods to be more efficient and beneficial to the soil,” Reyes adds.
INNOVATING FOR THE FUTURE
Meanwhile, Egyptian agritech startup Baramoda is creating customised fertilisers using innovative technology to decrease agricultural costs and help farmers reduce their environmental impact on soil.
Hailing from Qena in Upper Egypt, where sugar cane and sugar beet are widely cultivated, Baramoda CEO Mostafa El Naby witnessed the adverse effects crop harvesting was having on the land and its people.
“Despite its beauty and nature, Qena was facing a major environmental problem,” El Naby explains. “The cultivation of sugarcane resulted in high rates of agricultural waste. The crops were also usually burned, which caused respiratory problems for many residents.”
This motivated Baramoda to come up with a safe solution to recycle agricultural waste into organic fertilisers in an environmentally-friendly way.
According to the company, its fertilisers increase soil productivity by 20% while also reducing the usage of water. By preserving natural resources, the startup hopes to ensure food security, particularly during the pandemic.
“Soil is an important natural resource because it is the basis for providing food to people,” says Reham Yahia, R&D manager at Baramoda.
The problem is that it is being eroded more quickly than it is being formed. According to the United Nations, over 33% of the Earth’s soil is already degraded, and the proportion could reach 90% by 2050.
Baramoda’s fertilisers aim to minimise losses by reducing environmental hazards for the soil and replacing chemical products in the process. The company expects digital technologies to further disrupt the agricultural industry.
“With farmers embracing smart [solutions] and applying newer digital technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, remote sensing, robotics and big data, the future of agriculture will be much more exciting,” El Naby concludes.