Startup of the Week: Revolutionizing the agricultural sector

Startup of the Week: Revolutionizing the agricultural sector
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OrbitCrops is a Saudi-based startup that utilizes emerging technologies in agriculture field. (Supplied)
Startup of the Week: Revolutionizing the agricultural sector
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Startup of the Week: Revolutionizing the agricultural sector
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Startup of the Week: Revolutionizing the agricultural sector
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Startup of the Week: Revolutionizing the agricultural sector
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Updated 07 April 2020

Startup of the Week: Revolutionizing the agricultural sector

Startup of the Week: Revolutionizing the agricultural sector
  • Ziliani stressed that without the help of KAUST “OrbitCrops would not exist”

With the world’s population expected to increase by two billion over the next 30 years, the demand for water is also expected to increase by 20 to 30 percent.

This rapid population growth is threatening to imperil food security, especially in the Middle East and North Africa region, where water has always posed significant challenges for governments.

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, around 70 percent of the freshwater withdrawn each year around the world is used for agriculture. With the uncertainties of climate change, there is a pressing need for innovative agricultural solutions to help meet the demand for food in the coming decades as well as minimize the pressure on the natural environment.

OrbitCrops is a Saudi-based startup that utilizes emerging technologies in agriculture to help farmers optimize resources and increase the efficiency and productivity of their agricultural systems through a combination of satellite, modeling and weather forecast technologies.

The company was founded in early 2019 by Matteo Ziliani, his colleague Bruno Aragon and his brother Mirko Ziliani at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia.

“We provide farmers with a new way to monitor their fields. Using high-definition satellite images combined with weather data, we can analyze crop health and help farmers understand how much water they need and how much fertilizer they should use so that they can enhance crop productivity and performance,” Aragon, chief technology officer of OrbitCrops, told Arab News.

“We also predict the growth and development of crops and give farmers accurate crop yield forecasts if they continue with the use of our suggested practices,” Aragon added.

Aragon, a Ph.D. candidate in environmental engineering at KAUST, developed along with his colleagues the company’s innovative algorithms in the last five years as part of his dissertation work.

By benefitting from OrbitCrops technology, farmers can save up to 50 percent of their regular water use, reduce by 30 percent their fertilizer use and nearly double crop yields, thus increasing revenue while reducing soil salinity buildup.

The KAUST-based company targets medium to large-scale farming operations. They are ready to offer their services in the government sector as well.

“When we started our research here in Saudi Arabia, we realized the huge amount of water wasted in agriculture, and that’s when we understood that something needed to change,” CEO Ziliani told Arab News.

According to the OrbitCrops team, the sector’s fundamental challenge is that 90 percent of the country’s limited water, which comes from non-renewable aquifers, is used for irrigation each year. This situation causes another problem, which is soil salinity buildup from over-irrigation, requiring additional water to flush the salt out.

An additional challenge is a lack or limited use of remote sensing to maximize crop yield and conserve resources, a technology they want to offer to farmers.

OrbitCrops was able to win prestigious competitions even before securing any clients. They were among the finalists at the TAQADAM startup accelerator program, powered by KAUST and SABB, and won second place at Startup Istanbul in 2019.

Ziliani stressed that without the help of KAUST “OrbitCrops would not exist.”

“We received a lot of help from KAUST with regards to mentorship, business guidance, and financial support, which assisted us in improving our products.”

As the only company in Saudi Arabia to offer this service, OrbitCrops is playing a leading role in establishing the market for use of satellite imagery and geospatial technology in the field of agriculture.

However, this privilege is also a burden as such technologies are not commonly used in the market. Hence, providers of innovative solutions like OrbitCrops bear the responsibility of spreading awareness about the use of these technologies in light of challenges facing potential clients.

“One of the biggest challenges we face in the local market is the technology barrier among farm managers. A lot of them are not willing to try this type of business,” Aragon said.

“The cure for this challenge is simplicity,” he explained.

To ensure simplicity, OrbitCrops made their data accessible via mobile devices. They developed an easy-to-use application that visually identifies areas where farmers should make the necessary adjustments to water and fertilizer application using weather and satellite data.

“We offer information in the simplest way possible to allow also less experienced users to engage with the interface,” said Aragon.

“We are also working on customizing the interface for Arabic speakers.”

Their business model is subscription-based, and their pricing varies according to each client’s choice of the data package.

Achieving food security is one of the main focuses of the Saudi Vision 2030 to promote sustainable agriculture.

“The situation in the Kingdom is changing. Vision 2030 is starting to take shape, so given the fact that we offer farmers the opportunity to save water and fertilizers, we align perfectly with Vision goals,” Aragon said.

He noted that big data and machine learning technologies are actively growing around the world and becoming cheaper, thus making their products more accessible as well as profitable.

“There is no better time to introduce this technology,” he said.

 


Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrates another successful Ramadan

Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrates another successful Ramadan
Updated 11 May 2021

Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrates another successful Ramadan

Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrates another successful Ramadan
  • Khair, the Arabic term for good, well-being, blessings and benevolence, was the operative word founder Abdulmajeed Hashem chose for his charity

 

 

JEDDAH: With Ramadan drawing to a close, a family and friends charity celebrated the success of their ninth consecutive year in operation ahead of Eid festivities.

Abdulmajeed Hashem, the 25-year-old founder of Jeddah-based charity Khair for All, told Arab News about how his family and friends played their part in giving and lending a helping hand this holy month.

Whilst endeavoring to get involved in the spirit of Ramadan aged 16, the Jeddah-born Hashem discovered that local charities in his area had too many volunteers. However, he knew that there was no cap on good that can be done — so he founded his own charity.

Khair, the Arabic term for good, well-being, blessings and benevolence, was the operative word founder Hashem chose for Khair for All.

“We started in about 2012 with a small group of my cousins and friends. We decided to start by giving out meals for Iftar Sayim,” Hashem told Arab News.

Iftar Sayim is the charitable act of providing ready meals, usually dates, water, laban and a sambosa, to Muslims in Ramadan for them to break their fasts with.

One month worth of essential food items laid out in batches ahead of packaging and distributing. (Zeina Sweidan)

“That simple beginning turned into something that grew in size, in number of volunteers, in effort — we just kind of started from there and it naturally grew.”

Hashem and his team purchased Iftar Sayim meals using their own money and began distributing them in the suburbs of Jeddah — soon they found themselves in a daily routine they could not do without.

“Meeting here everyday, setting up the packs and distributing them ourselves has really been a bonding experience with our group,” he said. “We really enjoy this activity — it’s become a part of our Ramadan that’s very important to us.”

A less fortunate suburb in Jeddah receiving Khair for All monthly packages. (Hussain Abedi)

The global health crisis did not stand in the way of the charity’s vision for 2021, and while adjustments had to be made and precautions taken, they swiftly adapted and made the necessary changes for another successful Ramadan.

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 has played a role in getting the youth moving, according to the Khair for All founder. “I feel like with the new direction a lot more of my friends have been more willing to volunteer,” he said. “More people are ready to go and take on these projects.

“I’ve definitely noticed an increase in enthusiasm and energy in the past few years, and I think it’s very much linked to the direction of the country.”

Khair for All sets no limits on where and how it can be of service, and so ventured into more sustainable projects in which their effects will be seen in the years to come.

While Iftar Sayim is the basis for why Khair for All began, in 2014 Hashem and his team discovered that there were more ways to help the community than to simply help break their fasts.

Khair for All volunteer stuffing monthly packs of essential food items into the back of his car just before the Maghreb prayer — the time in which Muslims break their fasts. (AN/Zaid Khashogji)

“We later shifted to giving monthly packs,” the Khair for All founder said. “We kind of understood that families needed something more stable, something that would make them not have to worry about where their food was coming in for the next month.”

Since then, packaging monthly supplies consisting of basic goods and necessities has become the primary activity of the charity — and they soon found themselves working with local schools.

“We like to have more of a lasting impact in the places we’re helping out, rather than just providing a meal and then going back home,” Hashem said. “We want to provide something to the communities that we can see grow ourselves, so we’re really focusing a lot on education.”

Hashem and the team began pooling money together each year to improve the state of impoverished schools in Jeddah.

“Vision 2030 emphasizes a lot of the power the youth can have,” he said. “We believe any way we can make the schools a better learning environment for the kids would be a way of having a more lasting impact.

“We do a lot of work getting new chairs, painting and providing internet — and I hope we can continue to do more things like that in the future.”

Hashem believes that more direct communication with people in the community is necessary to address the real underlying issues, rather than just basing measures on assumptions.

“Basically, put our energy into what they tell us they need,” he said. “Talk to everyone there, and get to know them really well — that way, it’s addressing actual problems.”


Saudi civil defense reports some damage after Houthi projectile hits Jazan

Saudi civil defense reports some damage after Houthi projectile hits Jazan
Updated 11 May 2021

Saudi civil defense reports some damage after Houthi projectile hits Jazan

Saudi civil defense reports some damage after Houthi projectile hits Jazan
  • The Iran-aligned Houthi group regularly fires drones and missiles into Saudi Arabia
  • On Monday, the Arab coalition said it destroyed an explosive drone that was fired at Abha’s airport

CAIRO: Saudi Arabia’s civil defense said on Twitter early on Tuesday that a Houthi projectile had fallen in a border village in Jazan in the south of the kingdom, resulting in some damage to a house and cars but causing no injuries.
On Monday, the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi forces in Yemen said that it had intercepted an explosives-laden boat south of the Red Sea and destroyed an explosive drone that was fired at Abha’s airport.
The Iran-aligned Houthi group regularly fires drones and missiles into Saudi Arabia. The coalition says it intercepts most of them.


Saudi Arabia condemns attacks by Israeli forces at Al-Aqsa

Saudi Arabia condemns attacks by Israeli forces at Al-Aqsa
Updated 11 May 2021

Saudi Arabia condemns attacks by Israeli forces at Al-Aqsa

Saudi Arabia condemns attacks by Israeli forces at Al-Aqsa

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has condemned attacks carried out by Israeli forces at Al-Aqsa, a foreign ministry statement said early Tuesday.
The actions have caused concern in the Muslim world as the site is one of the most religious in Islam. 
The Saudi ministry of foreign affairs strongly condemns the attacks carried out by the occupation forces at Al-Aqsa mosque transgressing the safety and security of the worshippers, the statement said.
Saudi Arabia urged the international community to hold Israel accountable for the escalation of the events and calls for the immediate cessation of any exacerbation violating the international pacts and treaties, it added.
In the Gaza Strip, Palestinian authorities have reported the deaths of 20 people, including nine children, as Israel attacked militants who fired rockets at Jerusalem. 
Police fired tear gas and stun grenades inside Al-Aqsa Mosque and at least three Palestinians lost an eye after being struck by plastic bullets that witnesses said were aimed directly at their heads.
Tensions on the Gaza Strip border with Israel continued to mount following recent violent confrontations at the mosque and in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem.
More than a dozen tear gas canisters and stun grenades landed in the mosque as police and protesters faced off inside the walled compound that surrounds it. Smoke rose in front of the mosque and the golden-domed shrine on the site, and rocks littered the nearby plaza. Inside one area of the compound, shoes and debris lay scattered over ornate carpets.
The mosque is in a hilltop compound that is the third-holiest site in Islam and the holiest in Judaism. Tensions at the site, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, have triggered repeated bouts of violence in the past.

— With input from AP


Saudis ready to enjoy Eid Al-Fitr with health precautions in mind

Saudis ready to enjoy Eid Al-Fitr with health precautions in mind
Prior to the pandemic, Eid celebrations were marked by family gatherings where people used to enjoy traditional cuisines. However, now people have limited their visits and avoid large gatherings due to health concerns. (File photo)
Updated 11 May 2021

Saudis ready to enjoy Eid Al-Fitr with health precautions in mind

Saudis ready to enjoy Eid Al-Fitr with health precautions in mind
  • COVID-19 pandemic may have muted celebrations but fails to dampen people’s spirit

RIYADH: As many Muslims around the world eagerly await Eid Al-Fitr to celebrate with family and loved ones, Saudis have shared their annual routines on the festive occasion, which for many, are the best part of the whole celebration.

“I wait eagerly for Eid, and I always try a month before to go to the public and popular markets with my sons and daughters before the crowds to prepare for the occasion,” Husain Al-Anazi, a human resources operations supervisor, told Arab News. He buys whatever his family needs such as clothes, supplies and sweets.
On the Eid day, Al-Anazi goes to the mosque, where he performs the Eid prayer, and then returns home “I return to the parents, brothers and children. I greet my mother, sisters and children. Then I go to greet the elderly in their homes, especially my uncles, aunts and some of the elderly relatives,” he added.
After completing the morning tour, he returns home at noon to take a nap until the afternoon to catch up on sleep, since he is used to staying up late during Ramadan. He then goes to the majlis (sitting room for guests) in the afternoon and prepares tea and coffee for visitors.
In the evening, Al-Anazi goes to the meeting place of his relatives, where a special dinner for the family is held in either the house of the eldest relative or a separate rented location. Once the dinner wraps up, he goes to his friends on a break to greet them and play cards.
In the following days, he travels with friends to any place they decide to visit.

My favorite food during Eid is mansaf, a traditional Arab dish made of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt, and served with rice.

Asmhan Al-Fuhaiqi

As for Bandar Al-Ghayeb, a security worker at the Saudi Electricity Co., he rarely spends the whole Eid period with his family and relatives, as he works on a shift basis at the company.
He instead visits friends in the neighborhood, who prepare Eid meals (mostly grilled foods). “We don’t eat too much. We eat in a symbolic way, as if we are tasting food.”
Al-Ghayeb said that he also visits some relatives and other friends on the same day after taking a nap. Although he is usually physically exhausted, he feels psychologically comfortable, as it is a day where he is able to meet many people, including friends who he has not seen for years.
Al-Ghayeb is also keen to preserve the habit of “eidiya” every year, where children are gifted money by older members of the family.
The best moments of Eid for Saudi housewife Asmhan Al-Fuhaiqi are the morning of the first day, especially when she starts to put on new clothes.
“Performing Eid prayers has a special feeling. Then we meet together as family members at my father’s house, where we start distributing sweets to the guests,” she told Arab News.
Al-Fuhaiqi added the spirit of Eid shines through when groups begin to light fireworks in celebration.
“During Eid, I would be busy buying supplies, including clothes and accessories, and since I live in the town of Tayma, I cannot get everything I need, so I go with my family to the city of Tabuk (110 km away), which is the closest city to us” she said.

I go to greet the elderly in their homes, especially my uncles, aunts and some of the elderly relatives.

Husain Al-Anazi

She added that one of the most difficult things to buy during Eid is clothing, as she has to ensure that the size fits so that she does not go all the way back to Tabuk.
On the night before Eid, she makes sweets and puts them in the reception room before dawn, and perfumes the house with incense and oud.
In the past, Al-Fuhaiqi was keen to go to the prayer hall next to the city, which feels “beautifully different,” however, the situation changed after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, and she instead visits the nearby mosque.
The family then begins to receive guests in their home, distributing gifts to the children and supervising the fireworks. “Although it is risky, I feel that fireworks give a wonderful atmosphere for Eid, so I make sure that I am the one who lights the fireworks myself, not the children.”

I will be very happy during Eid, because we visit many people, and many also visit us in a short period of time.
Ruaa Rashid

She said that her favorite food during Eid is mansaf, a traditional Arab dish made of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt, and served with rice or bulgur.
Saudi child Ruaa Radhi told Arab News that her mother bought her a dress and beautiful shoes a few days ago for Eid, and bought enough fireworks from the market for her and her brothers.
“On the first day of Eid Al-Fitr, we will meet with my grandmother at her house in the presence of my aunts who live in other cities, where we will have dinner together, which is a cooked lamb that my mother and aunts cook,” she said.
Radhi’s maternal uncles usually gift her toys and sweets for Eid every year. “They usually give us light footballs and balloons. Indeed, I will be very happy during Eid, because we visit many people, and many also visit us in a short period of time.”
Nayef Al-Moaini, a Saudi engineer at Ma’aden, said that, for him, the celebration of Eid starts the night before, when preparing the house is one of the most important parts of the annual celebration.
“Celebration of Eid Al-Fitr often includes holding banquets for several days to celebrate the visitors, including our relatives coming from outside the city,” he added.
The second day of Eid is a fixed day for Al-Moaini’s family feast, which includes his uncles, their children and his neighbors.


Eid shoppers urged to be wary of virus risk in Saudi Arabia

Eid shoppers urged to be wary of virus risk in Saudi Arabia
People are seen in the Mall of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 11 May 2021

Eid shoppers urged to be wary of virus risk in Saudi Arabia

Eid shoppers urged to be wary of virus risk in Saudi Arabia
  • A Saudi ministry of Health spokesman noted that the fluctuating case numbers are a positive sign, but reiterated that the country is not in the clear just yet

JEDDAH: As the daily number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Saudi Arabia continues to hover between 950 and 1,100, authorities are calling on residents to remain careful and vigilant as they prepare for Eid Al-Fitr.
With the holiday only a few days away, shoppers are urged to remain on high alert and choose online shopping rather than visiting packed malls. Warnings have been issued that store closures are imminent if commercial establishments fail to abide by the required health and safety precautions and ensure social distancing is maintained.
It comes after more than two weeks of rising numbers of infections during Ramadan to more than 1,000 a day, which authorities said is the result of people failing to follow rules on social distancing and gatherings.
On Monday, health authorities in the Kingdom recorded 986 new cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), meaning 427,370 people in the country have contracted the disease.
The highest number of new infections was in the Riyadh region with 339, followed by the Makkah region with 283, and the Eastern Province with 131. Only two regions reported single-digit increases: The Northern Borders, with eight, and Jouf, with five.
An additional 1,076 people have recovered, according to health authorities, raising the total number of recoveries to 410,816. This means the recovery rate in the Kingdom has increased slightly to 96.1 percent.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Saudi Arabia recorded 986 new infections on Monday.

• 1,076 more people have recovered from the disease.

• The death toll rises to 7,085 with 13 new fatalities.

The number of active cases has been decreasing lately as recoveries increase. A Ministry of Health spokesman noted that the fluctuating case numbers are a positive sign, but reiterated that the country is not in the clear just yet. “The fluctuation could be an indicator that the cases are stabilizing,” he said on Sunday.
According to the figures announced on Monday, there are currently 9,469 active cases. Of these, 341 patients are in critical condition. Thirteen additional deaths related to COVID-19 were reported, raising the total to 7,085.
More than 10.6 million doses of COVID vaccines have been administered since vaccinations began in December. Nearly 31 percent of the Kingdom’s 34.8 million population have received at least one dose.

A total of 70,822 PCR tests for COVID-19 were carried out in the past 24 hours, raising the total number of tests in the Kingdom to nearly 17.6 million.
Saudi health clinics set up by the Ministry of Health as testing hubs or treatment centers have dealt with hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country since the start of the pandemic.

Taakad (make sure) centers provide COVID-19 tests for those who show no, or only mild, symptoms or believe they have been in contact with an infected individual. More than 9.7 million tests have been conducted at Taakad facilities.

Tetamman (rest-assured) clinics offer treatment and advice to those with more severe virus symptoms, such as breathing difficulties, fever, and loss of taste and smell. They have seen more than 2.5 million patients so far.

In addition, the Ministry of Health’s 937 call centers have received more than 35.2 million inquiries from people seeking medical advice.