Fin Tech Focus

Smart palm farm

November 20 - 26, 2019

Gulf Weekly Naman Arora
By Naman Arora

Gulf Weekly Smart palm farm

The women-led team of Ghallah, a Saudi-based palm farm management system, were one of 18 teams from across the Arab world that participated in the World Entrepreneurs Investment Forum’s (WEIF) Entrepreneurship Rally, held alongside the 18th Arab Businessmen and Investors Conference last week.

The team, comprised of Duaa Zeyad (Research & Development), Abeer Alharbi (Software development), Alanoud Aloufi (UX & business development) and Mohannad Aalouh (PR & training management), represented Saudi Arabia in the competition, and won third place and $10,000 in prize money.

Duaa noted: “We are planning to use the prize money to further develop the machine learning capabilities of the system. Fortunately, because of the exposure from this competition, we do not need any further publicity or marketing. So we are going to invest it into further refining our product and further developing the software.”

The team, which is barely a year old, was founded in a capstone entrepreneurship course at University of Prince Mugrin in Medina, but the genesis began much earlier, as all the core founders came from agricultural families.

This gave them an intuitive understanding of their target market. Ghallah is a farm management system, developed for palm farms, that helps farm owners enhance date production by regulating the whole process to monitor each tree’s health, using image processing and data analysis instead of drones and sensors.

As such, its primary target would be mid-to-small scale palm farm owners, who tend to be older and averse to massive capital investments. With this system, employees on the farm scan the QR code assigned to each tree, follow the directions developed based on the age of the tree, environmental factors and more, and once done, mark off the task as complete and take a picture of the tree.

Using machine learning technology, the team is training the system to recognise signs of red weevil infection as well as other concerns based on the pictures taken. They also hope to bridge the education gap between palm farm owners and employees by providing a step by step process for employees to follow as they use the app.

Duaa added: “We found that target customers are not adopting drones or sensors. Either they can’t afford it or they want to stick to traditional methods of date farming in Saudi Arabia. So we developed this system as an alternative that doesn’t require any specialised hardware.”

Bahraini startups like Nakheel are employing IoT solutions, but owing to the high cost of installation and further maintenance, Ghallah, once proven on a large scale would appeal to the small and medium sized farmers.

The other challenge that the team initially faced was acceptance, especially considering that all of them were female, until Mohannad joined the team.

Duaa reminisced: “When we went to the first farm, the owner answered our questions and queries but clarified as we were about to leave that he would never do business with females. But the mindset around that is evolving too. More and more, women are being encouraged to work in all fields. Yes, we sometimes face resistance from conservative farm owners, but since we brought Mohannad on, he does a lot of the networking and communication with them.”

The team is quite young. Duaa just graduated university and the business has just piloted its project with five leaders of farming communities, hoping to showcase the utility of their product. But with the aid of the KAUST incubator and their farming advisers, they have been developing their pricing and further developing the machine intelligence.

When asked what’s next, Duaa responds: “For now, we want to build brand awareness and the core strengths of the product. But within the next few years, once we have some good paying customers locally, we want to expand across the GCC and help palm farmers everywhere improve the yield from their farms and monitor for dangerous diseases.”

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