Iraq's first agritech company uses Ai to protect date industry
Three young Iraqis founded the country's first agritech startup. The country's ailing date palm industry is being revitalised through the company's use of Ai technology to offer a variety of palm tree care services.
Before war, displacement, deforestation and the increasingly dry conditions seen today in Iraq, the country had the highest number of date palm trees in the world. Iraq dominated the global market in date exports. Yet with decades of neglect due to conflict and difficult economic and environmental conditions, many people have left the agriculture industry and Iraq has lost almost half of its palm trees in the last 40 years.
“We decided that we need something to solve this problem, we needed to know what the palm needs and when it needs it. And that’s when the idea of Ai machine learning came up,” says 23-year-old Rawan Al Zaidy, Administrative Director at Nakhla.
Five years ago, Rawan and two other young Iraqis founded Nakhla, the country’s first agritech startup. Nakhla aims to enhance the number of date palm trees and reduce rates of deforestation through its subscription palm tree care services. Using sensors in the soil and the head of the palm tree, the artificial technology (Ai) can monitor the amount of humidity, heat, water and essential nutrients that the palm needs to produce flavorful, high-quality dates. Customers can access a full cycle of agricultural services throughout the entire season, including pruning, pollination, branch bending and date harvesting.
“We’re not going to just use technology but we will use it to the max!”
The company employs 10 full-time staff and 20 seasonal workers and is currently serving the needs of 400 trees in Baghdad and 2,700 trees in Mosul. A new deal with the municipality of Baghdad will see them expand to 12,000 trees in the city’s public and historical areas.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and curfews were introduced in Baghdad, Nakhla’s work was severely affected. “That’s when we decided that we’re not going to just use technology but we will use it to the max!” says Rawan.
Since October 2020, Nakhla has received technical and financial support from SPARK and local accelerator, The Station Foundation for Entrepreneurship, financed by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Now the team is developing a mobile app that enables customers to upload photos of their palm trees, which are analysed using Ai to advise on the trees’ needs. The team of specialists reply to the customer with guidance through the app and customers can also book visits with specialists.
“With the support of SPARK and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we will have something steady and iron-thick that will not break when we reach the Mosul market,” says Rawan. Nakhla hopes to have a complete, reliable platform for date palm trees across the region.