Berytech, under its program Agrytech, participated in the launch of the International Food Policy Research Institute 2019 (IFPRI 2019) Global Food Policy Report: Revitalizing Rural Areas in Lebanon and the soft launch of the World Bank Group (WBG) DigitalAG4MENA Competition, co-organized by IFPRI, the World Bank Group, Digital Ag in cooperation with the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences (AUB-FAFS), hosted at the American University of Beirut.
The Global Food Policy Report
The IFPRI’s 2019 Global Food Policy Report (GFPR) reviews major food policy developments from the past year and highlights the challenges and opportunities for 2019 at the global and regional levels. This year, the GFPR focused on the urgent need for rural revitalization due to the persistent crises around food, insecurity, poverty and inequality, and environmental degradation affecting particularly rural people in the MENA region.
The launch of the IFPRI in Beirut was one in a series of launches that have been held around the globe including Washington, Moscow, Brussels, Beijing and New Delhi.
Constantin Salameh, senior coach and investment advisor at Berytech, was part of a panel discussion on the global food policy report. The discussion covered key challenges faced by MSMEs in rural areas the region is experiencing from the very high unemployment rate, the high fly of tenants, the increase of poverty level in rural area exceeding 30% of the population earning less than 120$/month in rural areas, the poor acceptance of technology and innovation, and finally the poor management of resources from water, energy, agricultural lands, forestry lands topped by poor governance.
Salameh explained how entrepreneurship, innovation and strong ethics can help in addressing and solving challenges previously mentioned. He talked about the optimal process to promote agricultural and non-agricultural “incubators” and took the attendees into the process of how they can move an innovative idea into a Minimum Viable Product into market validation followed by the growth of the business to scaling up.
Salameh highlighted the contribution of Berytech in supporting entrepreneurs specifically through helping SMEs and startups working on innovations in the agri-food sector under its program Agrytech through the Agrytech Accelerator and Qoot cluster – the agri-food innovation cluster. He stressed on the importance of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Lebanon to contribute to the economy growth of Lebanon since innovative solutions in the agri-food sector can help address the challenges and issues the sector is encountering thus revitalizing the rural economy.
He was joined by Shady Hamadeh, professor and director of the Environment and Sustainable Development Unit (ESDU) at FAFS; Julian Lampietti, manager for the Global Agriculture Practice in the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, World Bank; Faten Adada, agriculture officer – Regional Initiative for Small Scale Family Farming, FAO Regional Office for Near East and North Africa countries; and Ghassan Al Salman, field officer at ESDU.
The speakers focused respectively on revitalizing rural areas through empowering rural people, the possibilities of leap-frogging into digitization, and the importance of building a resilient agriculture sector in the MENA region.
Read more about the Global Food Policy report on http://ebrary.ifpri.org/utils/getfile/collection/p15738coll2/id/133129/filename/133348.pdf
Launch of the DigitalAG4MENA competition
The second activity revolved around the soft launch of the DigitalAG4MENA competition, in collaboration with the World Bank Group (WBG), an opportunity to crowdsource innovative information and communication technology (ICT) solutions targeted at raising efficiency, equity and environmental sustainability of food systems in MENA.
Ramy Boujawdeh, Deputy GM at Berytech and director of the Agrytech Program, along with Dr. Nisrine Turky, co-founder of IOTree, a startup incubated at the Agrytech accelerator, participated in a panel discussion. They were joined by Dr. Hadi Jaafar, assistant professor of irrigation engineering and water management at FAFS, and Fatma El Zahraa Aglan, agricultural specialist, World Bank Group.
Dr. Turky, a pioneer in Lebanon and the region in using artificial intelligence (AI) in agriculture was invited to join the panel and discuss her startup which will be helping farmers reduce the use of pesticides and improve their production through the use of technology.
Dr. Turky explains: “I believe that digital farming makes agriculture sustainable, Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence are coming into a wider use to spread sustainable farming.” Through the use of AI and IoT, IOTree is able to turn the know-how into data so it can be used more widely allowing, through technology, to improve agriculture productivity. IOTree joined several competitions organized by Berytech before getting a direct pass to the Agrytech Accelerator after winning the Agrytech Hackathon in 2018.
Boujawdeh discussed the need to revive the Agri-food sector, improving food systems and ensuring food security. The region is challenged by water shortage, salinity of soils, supply chain and post-harvest poor practices, high level of uneducated farmers and a lack of interest in the sector. In 2016, one possible solutions was created, the Agrytech Program that was developed by Berytech and co-funded by the Dutch Government.
Through the Agrytech Program and for the past two years, Berytech has been aiming at bridging the gap of talent and problem solvers and areas that could benefit from them. He explained how at the beginning Berytech had to “arrange the marriage” as many of the graduates in Engineering, Computer Science, Sciences and other fields did not see their future in this sector. The outreach done across campuses, professional bodies and media helped make agriculture “sexy” to some and this is how the journey began.
The Program is comprehensive, it works on generating innovative startups by building a strong ecosystem bridging the tech and agri-food players, it also has supported the formation of an Agri-food Innovation Cluster, named Qoot, to support in accelerating the sector revival and improve its competitiveness.
Dr. Turky added by testifying on the importance of having accelerators to guide entrepreneurs through their journey: “I found a real pain point and I invented a solution, but it was impossible as an individual to make my dream happen. I joined the Agrytech Accelerator Program to be able to start my entrepreneurship journey… Berytech paved the way. I had to validate the market first before designing and developing the first prototype of IoTree at the Berytech Fablab from scratch… With Berytech’s support, we visited the Netherlands twice and benefited from the experts’ experience and even reached Silicon Valley in San Francisco.”
She also added: “Being a speaker in the soft launch of Digital4Mena at AUB was a very intriguing experience. After going through the entrepreneurial journey with the guidance of Berytech, I needed to gather headlines of this journey, making the audience and myself understand the true value of every experience I went through, in addition to the how and whys of launching a startup. Being a part of this experience was very positive towards me and IoTree, and I am sure it will contribute to nothing but a step forward towards the progress of the ecosystem.”
The Agrytech Program is a three-year program funded jointly by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Berytech aiming to source the top startups with disruptive innovations in the Agri-Food sector and provide them with the adequate technical and business resources as well as community support to scale their ideas into successful businesses with global impact.