Agri-Food Challenges

Berytech has partnered with stakeholders in the Lebanese agri-food sector to discuss the challenges they are facing that require innovative solutions. These challenges are proposed to the participants of the Agrytech Hackathon and those applying to the Accelerator, who can choose a challenge to work on.

Below you will find different challenges proposed by our partners in the industry, categorized into 5 different tracks: Farming, Food Industry, Rangelands and Forestry, Fishing and Aquaculture, and Management Support.

We encourage you to go through them and apply your critical and innovative thinking to creating solutions, no matter what your background is.

Track 1 - Farming Agrytech Batch 4

Crop, land and productivity optimization to fight food insecurity

Food Security is a pressing issue in Lebanon and the MENA region, influenced by land availability and climate change. The country only produces 10-15% of its wheat requirements. Land use is a challenge, as there aren’t large areas of arable lands coupled with limited planning. But even if all arable lands were cultivated with wheat, there would still be a shortage in matching the demand. Meanwhile, farmers are oriented towards cash crops like potatoes or vegetables especially if they have enough irrigation water, so they are not motivated to grow wheat.
Finding alternative crops, optimizing land use and improving productivity in agriculture is much needed to ensure food security

What is needed

Use technology to improve the management of land use and contribute to food security by identifying alternative crops that could be grown in different Lebanese regions

Challenger: International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas – ICARDA

Data: Available Research

Use greywater solutions and technologies in different business models to solve the water pollution issue by recycling industrial water

Water pollution is a serious problem in Lebanon specifically in the Litani water basin, due to the waste from factories, homes and agriculture production caused by the extra use of nitrates.
There are technologies available for different water treatments, including greywater. It is a simple system that treats water from home basins to be then used for home garden irrigation. Can we create an incentive to install it through a creative business model? Or recycle the water of industries and complete the cycle? 

What is needed

Develop a business model to finance and promote such solutions

Challenger: International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas – ICARDA

Data: Available Research

Optimization of legume supply chain in Lebanon

Chickpeas are an important raw material for the food industry, used in the making of Hummus that is consumed worldwide. In Lebanon, chickpeas are imported from the US at 70 cents/kg (before the current crisis) and processed by industries into Hummus that is then exported to world markets. Locally grown chickpeas are more costly and used to be at least 2-3 $/kg. The difference is large and for most industries, it is cheaper to just import as the price and volume are more optimal. Now that the economic crisis has affected import prices, all are turning into import substitution. However, land size continues to be a challenge. A cost-effective production of chickpeas or other pulses while producing enough volume for industries is needed. Hydroponics can be used for legumes as an alternative to smaller land size, but how cost-effective is it? The yield is low in hydroponics, 1.5-2 tons/ha while in an open field, can reach 8-10 tons/ha.

What is needed

Create a business model that pushes economy of scale and contract farming to promote the growing of all kind of legumes and provide better market conditions especially with the recent change of manpower cost in Lebanon.

Challenger: International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas – ICARDA

Data: Available Research

Improving visibility for small producers to understand their markets, competition, needs and prices and forecast their supply to implement economy of scale and optimize their costs

Organizations working in the agricultural field, deal with different clusters of farmer cooperatives. Collecting supply from the farmers to the packing-house is a challenge by itself as the volume of supply is not clear in advance.
In addition, one main challenge for cooperatives themselves, is the lack of access to alternative markets: limited diversification and selling space, as well as limited relationships with key actors along the value chain. These cooperatives have no access to market research studies nor the knowledge to carry out themselves, so markets become oversaturated with generic “mouneh” products.
And when the work needs coordination between different cooperatives, they need to plan the supply ahead of time and forecast quantities needed to produce to have consistency in supply in fair trade markets which is not present
And finally, cooperatives have not been able to scale up in terms of quantities due to the increasing cost of raw material and difficulty to find affordable sources

What is needed

Create a solution or business model that helps cooperatives organize their work, supply chain, forecast and demand and reach new markets

Challenger:Jean Paul II Foundation, World Food Program – WFP, Oikos Institute Lebanon

Data: Available Research

Lack of availability, accessibility and cost visibility for post-harvest packing and conditioning units in remote areas

Small and medium farmers are usually unable to take care of their produce post-harvest. By the time the produce reaches the market or the exporter’s warehouse, they lose a big part of their shelf life. This point is key for export and to maintain a good quality product. The lack of adequate packaging, conditioning and transportation facilities for the farmers and the high cost of creating one for each small farm is limiting the farmer’s ability to ensure the quality needed for export.
In addition, some post-harvest centers exist but are very distant from agricultural fields.

What is needed

Use technology and hardware to solve the issue of availability for post-harvesting centers.

Challenger: RMF Focus Groups

Olive and olive oil value chain optimization

CELIM is an Italian organization that is currently implementing a project in Hasbaya & Marjeyoun region to help farmers improve olive oil production, find markets for the oil locally or internationally, and help on transforming waste to organic fertilizers. They are trying to introduce new techniques in agriculture, and helping farmers to improve the land management. The main challenge in these two abovementioned regions is the topography: Mountainous lands with terraces, which makes plowing even more difficult and hinders the use of tractors.

Quality of the yield is mostly determined by the pest application, spraying techniques and harvest time. Usually, farmers are encouraged to harvest when 20-30% of the fruit turns red to black. Some farmers in Lebanon harvest in November, some even in December, just by experience, rather than based on any scientific method.

What is needed

Hardware/software that can help the Lebanese farmers optimize their agricultural practices (plowing, harvest, harvest time …)

Challenger: CELIM/ LebRelief

Animal tagging system and traceability improvement

The Ministry of Agriculture has tagging systems for animals, mainly for registration and traceability purposes. However, farmers sometimes do not register new borne animals, and thus no tagging or traceability is maintained. Additionally, with the current crisis, the tagging system is need of upgrading, which is beyond the Ministry’s financial capabilities.

What is needed

A simpler system for tagging that can include sensors for new borne to include in the traceability, and one where information can be updated regularly.

Challenger: OIE

Heat Detection devices for cattle

Cattle farming productivity is highly depending on artificial breeding. And artificial breeding cannot be successful without an accurate and immediate detection of heat. This is done usually by observation in Lebanon. But observation is only done during day hours. And every heat missed costs the farmer 1 month of non-production and waiting. Some devices are usually imported to detect heat and they all rely on mounting activities detection.

What is needed

Hardware that can solve the issue of heat detection and help farmers optimize their breeding plan.

Challenger: USJ-ESIAM

Improvement of small ruminants practices and pasture for better productivity

The small ruminants farming sector is still underdeveloped. The practices are still very traditional. Shepherds needs to count sheep’s or goats to verify the numbers, no tagging system, no diseases primary detection, no scientific breeding, no register for new born animal, no vaccine schedule… which is affecting the productivity and the cost of the product, being it milk or meat. In addition, the sales channel of these products is still limited to networks and not developed to a well structured marketing approach. 

On another note, pasture consumed by small ruminants affect the milk productivity. changing the plants types or finding a better places can increase the production of milk of small ruminants. Can technology help in designing smart solution for small ruminants management and productivity?

What is needed

Use hardware and software to improve the management of small ruminants and their production yield

Track 2 - Food Industry - Packaging & Marketing Agrytech batch 4

Better differentiation for food products and improving shelf life through packaging innovation

The challenge among food industries is finding innovative ways of packaging and presenting products. With a low barrier to entry in the market, anyone can develop a product and sell it in supermarkets, with little differentiation in packaging. All jams in glass or all grains in bags, or all liquids in bottles that all look alike with little differentiation, besides the label.
Additionally, the majority of the packaging material is imported, and in standard shapes and sizes. . There is a need to look for different raw materials to create innovative packaging that can last longer, be more presentable, and preserve the freshness and taste.

What is needed

Use technology to develop new and different packaging materials beyond carton or glass.

Challenger: USAID Funded Community Support Program

Improved understanding of consumer needs and behavior and change in market dynamics

Understanding the consumer and knowing who you are selling to is the key to successful marketing and business management. More often producers are good engineers, good in production management but not marketing.
When it comes to market studies, a lot of ready-made expensive market research is available. Companies may do also their own market research. In such cases, this would provide general quantitative information on the market, the market shares of competitors, and the size of the market.
The challenge is to have a better understanding of the consumer behaviour: Who are these consumers? What are they like? Are they coming back and purchasing the product or is it just a one-time thing?
To drive better sales, make marketing activities more efficient and reduce food waste, companies need to establish a better relationship with consumers and understand their needs and behaviors.

What is needed

Use technology to help food processors establish a relationship with their consumers and make it more sustainable.

Challenger: USAID Funded Community Support Program

Secure food safety by maintaining the cold chain for different product categories while optimizing routing

All food companies have their own fleet. They go to market with their full portfolio. Many of these companies have products that should be stored at different temperatures (room temperature and chilled or chilled and frozen…). Maintaining the right temperature of the product with the right humidity is more than important to secure food safety but also to reduce waste and extending the shelf life.
At the same time, companies always try to maximize the efficiency of their distribution fleet even if that means to mix products in on truck.

What is needed

Create an integrated solution between hardware and software specially designed for food industries to minimize the food waste due to cold chain rupture or inadequacy.

Lack of automation in quality monitoring and analysis systems

The majority of Food safety and quality systems, in the agricultural and food industries are still documented manually. All records are done and registered on paper. That semi-automated implies a loss of time, because it required manual recording of data, than electronical reporting. Plus, it not only overuses paper, it delays the reporting and reaction speed at managerial and decision making level which can higher the risk of product non-conformity and food waste.

What is needed

Create an integrated solution for the registration, follow up, analysis and reporting quality and certification systems.

Loading of trucks with heavy bulk products without palettes

Flour mills in Lebanon used to rely on foreign labor taskforce to load huge trucks with flour bags. A truck can take up to 20 tons of flour if the bags are stacked. After the currency devaluation, foreign labor became unsatisfied with the income and is leaving the country. This is causing an issue for flour mills. And if they adopt pallets stacking method in order to use forklifts, they reduce the trucks capacity to half.

What is needed

Use robotic solutions to help in solving the issue of truck loading for large sensitive products

Challenger: Crown Flour Mills

Represent Lebanese food and ingredient in an innovative way for export

A lot of traditional Lebanese food is still underproduced while it is demanded especially by the Lebanese Diaspora around the world. Export of such products can help in improving the trade balance and in valorizing the traditional Lebanese food. To do so, these products should be conforming to different international standards and should be packed and labeled in an innovative way.

What is needed

Develop a solution to give more value to traditional Lebanese food and ingredient and optimize production conditions for export

Track 3 - Range Land & Forestry Agrytech

Prevention of forest deterioration caused by fires and pest invasion

Fires and pest invasion are the major risks facing Lebanese forests. There is a need to have proper prevention mechanisms put in place as one type of pest can negatively impact the whole forest, including trees and shrubs. There are early warning systems for forestry utilized abroad but the scale is by far larger than that of Lebanon.

What is needed

Develop an early warning system for Lebanese forests that is more simplified and adapted for Lebanon, namely for detecting pests attacking pine trees.

Challenger: Food and Agriculture Organization – FAO

Identification of forest need in water to optimize temporary solutions

Drip irrigation is used in forests and sometimes in farrow irrigation as well. Some sites are difficult to reach and irrigate. In South Lebanon, rainfall is low and there is a need to irrigate more intensively in the first 2 years. However, drip irrigation in such cases is expensive, especially if it’s just required for 2 years. Some use small potteries that are cut in half and placed next to tree/plant that allows for the slow release of water which is not a sustainable solution

What is needed

Use satellite imaging or other technologies to help in identifying and detecting water needs for the forest trees in Lebanon.

Challenger: Food and Agriculture Organization – FAO

Creation of a solution enabling fishermen to locate new and safe fishing locations that fit their available safety equipment

The fishing sector faces many challenges due to the scale of activities and the traditional nature that prevails in the sector.
There are around 17,000 fishermen and only 3000 licensed fishing boats in Lebanon. Most of the fishing vessels are small and traditional with basic equipment on board. The main problem is the over-capture of fish on the coast. Boats are not well equipped with security tools to allow further dwelling in the sea, so the fishermen end up catching small fish and depleting the sea of further resources. All are fishing within the same space, not more than 3-5 km, while by law they can go as deep as 20 km, on the condition of having all security measures onboard. This is costly and unaffordable.
Alternatively, they are unable, with their current small fishing boats, to locate different fishing sources with no GPS or any equipment that can help them. Can mobile phones be utilized to address this challenge? Scanning or using specific applications simple enough for fishermen to use and at the same time reduce over-capture?

What is needed

Use technology to develop a solution that helps fishermen find out where to fish, when to fish, and the type of fish to capture.

Challenger: Food and Agriculture Organization – FAO

Track 5 - Management Support Agrytech

Creation of a solution that enables extension in agriculture without relying on physical presence 

Covid-19 has enforced a new way of life and continues to do so, a change that systems around the world are trying to cope with and adapt. Online learning and training have become a new way of education, but its impact is yet to be determined.
In agriculture, the extension is an important activity usually carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture and other international and local non-governmental organizations. It’s a mix of one-on-one coaching, group training for capacity building, consultations, among others. But this cannot be undertaken amidst Covid-19 due to risks of virus spread. How can the extension be supported? Most of the farmers do not have access to online libraries or learning, and some do not have smart mobile phones. So how can we reach out to all farmers and link them to this new system of extension? How can NGOs use such tools to provide support to the farmers and other actors in the agriculture sector as well?

What is needed

Develop a solution where farmers can contact extension agents beyond the phone calls and get effective advice.

Challenger:Food and Agriculture Organization – FAO

Optimization of the voucher schemes process used for farmers support from selection and generation to monitoring and reconciliation

Vouchers are used worldwide for all purposes, be it promotional for FMCG, private sector, or relief support or through the distribution of food or cash amounts. In Lebanon, the voucher concept has been widely used, namely in food distribution to vulnerable groups, such as the E-card used by WFP or recently the distribution of input supplies by FAO. FAO has developed guidance notes for building a voucher scheme, including farmer selection, supplier selection, grievance mechanisms, and post-distribution monitoring.
Any voucher scheme needs a process including a transaction. Currently, the farmers are given a checkbook with 10 vouchers. Each checkbook has the name of the farmer and each voucher has a barcode: 20 barcodes, 1000 farmers, and all this is done manually, thus very time-consuming.
Some farmers can purchase 30 items with 20 barcodes or 1 product with 20 barcodes. There are 20,000 barcodes but only 3000-4000 transactions. Can such a process be done electronically, paying suppliers while farmers are aware of the transactions and how much they have remained in case they want to buy more?
The second part of the process is the monitoring: what is remaining in terms of amounts, vouchers, products, and then post-monitoring is carried out. Again, all of this is done manually. Can technology help to have an inclusive voucher management scheme that governs the whole process of voucher production, distribution, reconciliation, and post-distribution monitoring? This can be then used by all other organizations that utilize voucher schemes in their activities, locally or abroad.

What is needed

Develop a solution where voucher schemes can be automated and efficient in terms of post-distribution monitoring.

Challenger: Food and Agriculture Organization – FAO

Improving the outreach of organizations supporting the Lebanese population in terms of food security (or any kind of support)

There are a lot of ongoing food security initiatives, given the severity of the economic crisis and its impact on the different vulnerable communities in Lebanon. More often, reports are published by local or international organizations on the activities implemented in that aspect, number of beneficiaries, and other non-beneficiaries reached out to. However, there are no further details on the beneficiaries and more often duplication occurs. There is a need for a simple agile platform that can include more interactive information on the beneficiaries, without impacting confidentiality and the sensitivity of the beneficiary’s privacy. Can technology be used to make this process more efficient – a platform combining all such organizations as well as beneficiaries to increase impact and decrease unfairness.

What is needed

Develop a solution where data can be used to avoid the overlap of relief actions and support more targeted relief.

Challenger:Food and Agriculture Organization – FAO

Design of a solution to improve the practical distant learning for agricultural technical schools

The Agriculture Technical Schools have been undergoing significant improvements, with support from international organizations and donors, to be more equipped and more labor market-driven for the sector. The curricula have been upgraded and schools refurbished.
However, with the Covid-19 pandemic, physical learning is a challenge, and even more so when applied courses have to be administered. How can Agriculture schools adapt to such change and what technology can be used to have more simplified e-learning, as well as monitoring, applied courses in the field?

What is needed

Create tools and solutions to be used by technical schools for field and online learning.

Challenger: Food and Agriculture Organization – FAO

Solve the issue of cashflow for farmers

Farmers were used to a get their inputs from suppliers on credit. They sold their products to wholesalers in advance to use this money to cover their expenses.
After the economic crisis, their whole cashflow cycle was disrupted due to the obligation of paying cash.
Can experts create a disruptive financial model and business model that can help the farmers in surviving this phase and keep growing their business?

What is needed

Creating a disruptive financing and credit model to solve the cashflow issue in the agricultural sector.

Improve connections between farmers and service providers

Most of the farmers, specifically in Akkar, are isolated and have little visibility of knowledge to be able to connect to various markets. They often incur losses as they do not have access to markets, but even worse, they do not have enough information on the service providers such as those providing pruning services, tillage, etc…

What is needed

An application to connect people  based on geographic location and help to utilize more efficiently the services and eventually the market

Challenger: LebRelief

Solve the financial modeling gap in small businesses

Today and due to the economic crisis, farmers and small food processors are finding hard time to decide on how to optimize their SKUs in a way to maximize their profit or even minimize the loss. While the packaging cost is becoming a burden on the total product cost (since all packaging materials are imported)

What is needed

Create a smart solution to help financially unskilled people in finding the best financial model to cope with market change

Increase awareness on animal health and diseases

There is very little awareness from the farmers/herders on animal health. More often they are unaware or do not know the symptoms, do not observe enough to call the VET and provide the proper vaccine. Thus there is need for more effective diseases prevention and treatment. Extension and awareness on animal health in Lebanon is most often neglected and overlooked. There is a need to increase awareness on importance of animal health also for Lebanese consumers, to be aware of what the are buying and what diseases could be transmitted to humans as well.

What is needed

An app or another, helping farmers to detect symptoms and call VET doctors to provide proper treatment in time so as to prevent mortality and thus economic losses

Challenger: OIE

Meet the Challengers

Berytech has partnered with these experts in their fields to identify the real-life challenges presented to be solved under the Agrytech Hackathon and Accelerator Program.

Need more info?

If you have any questions about the Agrytech Program, please email us on agrytech@berytech.org, and we will get back to you.