Two engineers help fight Lebanese farming foe

El-Turky found that farmers were spraying crops with too many pesticides to kill fruit flies, needlessly harming their produce. (Shuttershock)
Updated 19 August 2019
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Two engineers help fight Lebanese farming foe

  • Early-warning system lets farmers know when to protect their crops from fruit flies
  • Mobile app tells them the best time to spray pesticides to halt their advance

DUBAI: An award-winning startup led by two female Lebanese engineers has created an automated early-warning system that allows Middle East farmers to protect their crops against the Mediterranean fruit fly, one of the world’s most destructive pests.

Fruit flies can devastate entire harvests and have infested over 300 types of vegetables, fruits and nuts globally, causing financial ruin to countless farmers in the Arab world.

However, an ingenious system designed by Nisrine El Turky, a computer engineer and university professor, and Christina Chaccour, an electrical engineer, will tell farmers via text messages and mobile app of the best time to spray pesticides to halt the pests’ advance.

“Many Lebanese farmers weren’t able to export apples because the quality of their produce wasn’t good enough,” said El Turky, co-founder of IO Tree.

“So many I met were desperate to sell a crate of apples for $2 (SR7.50), which is nothing. I wanted to help the sector by better integrating technology.”




Farmers were found spraying too much pesticide to try to kill fruit flies. (Shutterstock)

She began by investigating the difficulties that farmers faced, attending workshops and seminars, and visiting farms. She found the main problem was that farmers were spraying too much pesticide to try to kill fruit flies.

“I found a way that could reduce the use of pesticides and increase production.”

El Turky began working on the IO Tree concept in February 2018 and swiftly built a working prototype, which she showed to Chaccour, who promptly joined the company as a co-founder.

IO Tree’s technology is being tested on farms in Lebanon and the Netherlands. There are two prototype machines — one for indoor use and another for outdoor. The machines can be placed in an orchard, field or greenhouse.

“We need to ensure that the prototype functions in all conditions. Outdoors, there is sun, dust, rain and other weather factors that could disrupt its operation,” said El Turky, who still works up to 10 hours a week as a lecturer at Lebanon’s Notre Dame University.

Using machine learning and artificial intelligence, the machine’s sensors monitor indicators such as temperature and moisture, as well as studying plant stress.

The system can detect and identify pests, providing data on the likely scale of an imminent pest invasion and the best action the farmer should take to combat it. Information is conveyed to the farmer via IO Tree’s app.

“If you’re using pesticides, our app will tell you the best pesticide to use to tackle that problem, the quantity you need and when to spray.”




IO Tree’s sensors use machine learning to measure plant stress. (Supplied photo)

EL Turky said her technology had shown over 90 percent accuracy in identifying medflies.

“Machine learning means that every day the system becomes more accurate,” she said.

“We’re also working on identifying other pests, but medfly is our main target. Once medflies arrive at a farm, they will eat everything.”

IO Tree will enable farmers to use fewer pesticides, reducing environmental damage, while produce will be in better condition and can command a higher sales price.

“By using fewer pesticides, farmers will be better able to preserve biodiversity: Spraying kills a lot more insects than just pests,” she said. IO Tree has initially targeted all types of fruit trees, plus tomatoes and cucumbers, and the product will be launched commercially in September.

“We’re aiming at farmers directly,” said El Turky.

IO Tree’s services will be sold via subscription. After a farmer signs up for one year initially, the company will install its machines at the farm. The number of machines required per acre depends on crop type, crop yield, land topography and other factors.

The company’s initial target market is the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, though it also plans to expand to Europe and eventually worldwide.

The product’s potential has helped IO Tree win a string of startup competitions. It was selected to represent Lebanon GSVC 2019 (Global Social Venture Competition) at the University of California, Berkeley.

IO Tree also joined Lebanon’s Agrytech accelerator, which provided $44,000 in funding, and schooled the fledgling entrepreneurs in how to create and manage a startup.

 

• The Middle East Exchange is one of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Global Initiatives that was launched to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai in the field of humanitarian and global development, to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. The initiative offers the press a series of articles on issues affecting Arab societies.

 

 


Celine Dion returns to Canada to kick off world tour

Updated 19 September 2019

Celine Dion returns to Canada to kick off world tour

  • The Grammy winner also recently announced the release of a new album titled “Courage”
  • She said in April that she felt motivated to create new music and hit the road after the 2016 death of her husband and manager

QUEBEC CITY: After living and crooning for years in Las Vegas, French-Canadian superstar Celine Dion returned home to Quebec to kick off her first world tour in a decade on Wednesday.
At 51, the Grammy winner also recently announced the release of a new album titled “Courage,” which will be her 12th in English and is due out on November 15.
The first single “Flying On My Own,” featuring her powerful vocals backed by techno beats, has already hit the airwaves, while three more dropped Wednesday: “Courage,” “Lying Down” and “Imperfections.”
Known for her blockbuster ballads, Dion said in April that she felt motivated to create new music and hit the road after the 2016 death of her husband and manager Rene Angelil.
“When I lost Rene, he wanted me back on stage. He wanted to make sure I was still practicing my passion,” she said. “I wanted to prove to him that I’m fine, we’re fine, we’re going to be OK. I’ve got this.”
So, after more than 1,140 concerts for 4.5 million fans over 16 years in Sin City, she bid adieu to the Colosseum at Caesars Palace with a final two-hour show.
“Courage is exactly the way I feel,” she told public broadcaster CBC at the time, talking up the upcoming tour of the same name.
“In the past three years, it has been difficult for me to talk to my children, to raise them, to lose my husband, wondering am I going to sing again... so much has happened, but at the same time I feel that I’m in control of my life.”
Some 60 dates in North American have been confirmed so far, her label said, with two arena shows in Quebec City on Wednesday and Saturday kicking off the tour, which will run through April 2020, and will be her first world tour since 2008-2009.
Her show was almost two hours of mastery, as she performed some of her greatest hits — from “I’m Alive” to “My Heart Will Go On” — as well as new material to an ecstatic crowd of roughly 20,000.
“It was really impossible to miss Celine at home,” Nicolas Delivre, a French university exchange student in Montreal, told AFP.
Donald Berard, from Quebec City, said he had grown up listening to Dion. “We love her like a member of our family.”
“Courage” marks the first album and tour in Dion’s long career without Angelil, who steered her success beginning in 1981 when he mortgaged his house to finance the young teen’s debut album.
The pair began a personal relationship in 1988 when she was only 19 years old, and married in a lavish ceremony in 1994. Angelil died of throat cancer at age 73.
In an interview with NBC’s Today show, Dion revealed that she longs for the hugs and laughs that come with a relationship, but added, “I’m not ready to date.”
The youngest of a family of 14 children raised in the suburbs of Montreal, Dion has sold 250 million copies of 23 studio albums in English and French, including collaborations with French singer-songwriter Jean-Jacques Goldman, Barbra Streisand and Stevie Wonder.
Back in Canada, she told the Montreal Gazette that the tour schedule was “a little crazy,” but that she had found time in advance to take in life’s small pleasures.
At a press junket last Friday, Dion told Radio-Canada: “There are good wines that age well, and there are good wines that age badly. I hope to be a good bottle of wine.”
“I’m not a new Celine,” Dion added. “I’m a continuity of myself.”