Tunisian start-up empowers farmers with innovative irrigation solutions

July 28, 2023
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To meet the challenges of water scarcity and climate change, innovative solutions are needed to ensure sustainable agriculture. Irwise is a Tunisian startup specialising in irrigation engineering and leading the way with its cutting-edge technology of remote control irrigation. Through the EU supported #EyesonBlue competition, the startup has gained recognition and financial backing, enabling it to continue addressing water-related challenges and empowering farmers in the Southern Mediterranean region.

From a farmer’s need to an award-winning solution

Five years ago, Mohammed Mekki Maâlej experienced firsthand the devastating impact of water scarcity when his father, a Tunisian farmer, suffered a stroke. “We lost the entire harvest that year, it was very brutal,” the young entrepreneur remembers.

Determined to find a solution, Mohammed used his basic Nokia 3310 to launch a phone call application to activate irrigation in their fields. This initial innovation laid the foundation for Irwise’s successful journey towards becoming a leader in irrigation technology.

“Today the solution is much more developed, of course,” Mohammed explains, citing the support received from the EU as “instrumental” in the growth of his company.

Last year, the start-up applied to #EyesOnBlue competition launched by the EU Neighbours South programme in partnership with the European Commission Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) and the SwitchMed programme. The contest aimed to showcase innovative ventures and individuals addressing water-related issues through innovative solutions. 73 proposals from 8 countries of the Southern Mediterranean region were received.

“Winning the first prize was incredible. It provided us with the financial support necessary to further invest in our equity and expand our operations,” recounts Mohammed, also noting that the competition opened new doors to international visibility, as well as connections with other like-minded entrepreneurs.

According to Maya Karkour, member jury for #EyesonBlue and environmental and circular economy specialist, the impact of EU-funded awards is “significant” for startups like Irwise, particularly during the early stages of establishing a business. The free specialised advice offered through programmes like #EyesonBlue also provides invaluable support to entrepreneurs who might not have the resources to engage paid experts. “There is also a great value in the visibility that comes with being recognised and awarded in a competition like #EyesonBlue. The acknowledgment from a third-party evaluation greatly enhances trust in the startup’s work and showcases its positive impact on the local ecosystem and water challenges as a whole,” the expert concludes.

Revolutionising water management in agriculture with Irwise’s cutting-edge technology

Irwise’s flagship product, IrriApp, is an Internet of Things (IoT) solution designed specifically for agriculture. It offers farmers wireless remote control of irrigation, with a remarkable range of 33 kilometres and a battery life of six months. Through the integration of climate and weather data and the use of artificial intelligence, IrriApp enables farmers to make informed decisions and monitor irrigation parameters in real time. The application also provides soil moisture and temperature data, calculates humidity and air temperature, and even measures wind speed.

“The impact of IrriApp on farmers’ practices has been significant. First, it has resulted in a 30% reduction in water consumption, a 15% decrease in pesticide usage, a 12% increase in productivity, and a 20% reduction in carbon footprint,” Mohammed lists with enthusiasm.
“These impressive figures demonstrate the power of precision technology in optimising resource management and enhancing agricultural sustainability,”.

Irwise’s innovative approach not only contributes to environmental sustainability by reducing water consumption but also delivers socio-economic benefits. The technology enables a decrease in water costs by helping farmers precisely monitor water requirements based on specific crop needs.

Mr. Ahmed is one of those who embraced Irwise technology. He explains how the app’s remote irrigation control “significantly reduced” his water consumption and electricity bills while allowing precise adjustment of irrigation parameters for each crop.

Technology at the service of farmers

Fostering a sense of community among farmers and agricultural experts is also one of the objectives of Irwise.
“We greatly encourage collaboration and contributions to the Irwise project, including through a forum integrated into the app,” Mohammed explains, saying that farmers are “delighted with this tool”.

“They are so overwhelmed with work so having help to know what is going on underground truly helps them and gives them the time needed to become entrepreneurs and look for the best prices to sell their crops in order to actually make profit.”

The startup is in the process of opening a branch in Algeria. “They have almost the same problems as Tunisian farmers, except that they are working on a much bigger land. Therefore, our newly developed 33 km radius solution is going to be perfect for Algerian farmers.”

According to Mohammed, the Tunisian market counts 500,000 farmers while its Algerian neighbour has 1.2 million. “It is such a long way and Irwise alone cannot go the distance. We need to come together and work hand in hand so that agriculture in North Africa can best prepare for the havoc that climate change is wreaking”.

The startup is currently benefiting from the EU Switchmed programme, which accompanies them in their development process. “We have plans to expand to Morocco, and Libya.”
Irwise is also developing artificial intelligence capabilities to analyse data and provide optimal water requirements for each tree, allowing farmers to maximise productivity while conserving resources.

Always optimistic, Mohammed emphasises the urgency of precision technology solutions in the face of climate change. Today, he envisions a future where specialised software for irrigation engineering and related fields is accessible to all. “Irwise’s mission is to bridge the technological gap by providing free software tools and programming services to address the lack of advanced solutions in the industry.”