AR-ENA

AR-ENA

creating more food with less water

AR-ENA

AR-ENA is a female-led start-up from Jordan, that produces a new type of hydrogel – polymers which absorb air humidity and capture liquids and can be used as a replacement for soil in hydroponics and as a replacement or assistant for the irrigation process and systems. Furthermore, AR-ENA developed an electronic application that can calculate the exact amount of water needed, based on data from sensors measuring parameters of the soil (such as temperature and moisture), thus taking in mind all the elements affecting the irrigation process to achieve the highest efficiency and effectiveness. The solution not only saves soil and water in agricultural settings besides proving a long life-span, but also increases production yield. Furthermore, the solution creates a social impact by improving the abundance of food, promoting self-sufficiency of rural areas and creating new harvesting areas. For these reasons, AR-ENA has been chosen as the ISC3 Start-up of the Month for July 2024.

Year of Foundation:

2019

Addresses the following SDGs:

SDGs 1 (No Poverty), 2 (Zero Hunger), 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), and 15 (Life on Land)

Hydrogel packed in a bottle packed in a box
AR-ENA hydrogel
two arabic looking men and a woman waering a headscarf smiling into camera (portrait photo)
AR-ENA founders from left to right: Abdulrahman Zaid (CMO), Nourhan Algharabli (Co-Founder-CEO), Alaa Hijazeen (Co-Founder-CFO)
Hydroponic settup: four rows of pipes over each other; out of them are sticking out heads of lettuce
AR-ENA hydrogel can be used in a hydroponic setup

Saving water in the Arabian drought

AR-ENA started in 2019 as a Hult Prize competition project, "Food for Good," in Tokyo, Japan, where the start-up emerged as one of the top 6 teams. After that, the start-up was launched with the support of various accelerators and incubation programs, allowing the young company to build up their manufacturing formula, patent their solution, and conduct validation and testing.

AR-ENA was founded to address the pressing issues of water scarcity and agricultural inefficiency. Growing up in Jordan, Nourhan Algharabli (founder & CEO), saw the struggles of a dry climate from a very young age. In Arabic countries, water is a limited and precious resource to sustain human life, but is also necessary for the irrigation process in the growth of crop needed to provide food. Nourhan, currently an ambitious student of Business Intelligence at MEU, wants to revolutionize agriculture in the Arabic world to save water and soil.

With their innovative hydrogel technology, the start-up found a solution to reduce the exuberant use of water in the irrigation process.

“We aspire to be recognized as pioneers in sustainable agriculture, enabling farmers to produce more with less, conserve precious water resources and improve food security”
, states Nourhan. As the first company in Jordan with no historical data on the topic and limited budget, the start-up has had to face many challenges so far, besides the continuous need for R&D to test the product, such as securing funding, refining their product formula, navigating regulatory hurdles and penetrating the market.

The young company successfully assembled a team of interdisciplinary professionals, to ensure comprehensive coverage of all aspects related to the startup - from manufacturing and legalization to logistics and product finalization. The team now consists of 15 employees, including chemical and manufacturing specialists, a financial specialist, a marketing specialist and a logistics specialist, with Nourhan Algarabli (Co-Founder-CEO), Alaa Hijazeen (Co-Founder-CFO), Abdulrahman Zaid (CMO), Mohammad Zaid (Logistics Manager) coming from the business side.

The name "AR-ENA" is an acronym. The first two letters symbolize “Agricultural” and “Renovative” and “ENA” relates to the “Arabic MENA region”. It reflects the start-up´s mission to bring innovative agricultural solutions to the Arabic world and beyond.

Hydrogel – efficient, water absorbing polymers

AR-ENA´s innovation lies in a revolutionary hydrogel - polymers that absorb air humidity and convert it into water.

“Recognizing the potential of hydrogel technology, we developed a solution that could provide a sustainable and efficient alternative to traditional irrigation and soil use”
, explains Nourhan.

What exactly is the gel capable of? This hydrogel reduces water usage by up to 65% by absorbing up to 90% of surrounding humidity and releasing water continuously for up to 13 months - depending on the soil type and temperature. It prevents leaking, evaporation and waste. Not only does this technology cut costs, but also increases the production yield (and thus income) by up to 30%.

For example, having absorbed water, the hydrogel can simply be put into a furrow or hole. After covering it with a layer of soil, the seeds can be planted on top. It is also possible to mix the dry gel with some fertilizer and apply the mixture when sowing the seeds. Besides that, the product is also the first to be affordable with complete abandonment of the irrigation process and systems, compared to competitors on the market. The gel is biodegradable, non-toxic, has a rather neutral PH level after absorption (6-7.5) and an expected shelf life of 2 years, rather than only weeks or a couple of months, like other products on the market.

Additionally, AR-ENA differs from other competitors by offering an application that can calculate the exact amount of water needed, based on data from sensors measuring parameters of the soil (such as temperature and moisture), taking into account all the elements affecting the irrigation process to achieve the highest efficiency and effectiveness needed. The measuring water controlling system can be build into both: dripping and spraying systems. Compared to traditional watering methods, such as the ones mentioned above, this technology allows for a more efficient water management and water saving of 80-90%, (traditional systems only 55 and 25%). The possible application of the hydrogel does not stop with targeting crop irrigation; the absorbent polymers can also be used e.g. in the production of clean water, in hygienic pads, in diapers or cooling pads.

AR-ENA´s solution allows countries suffering from low agricultural production and a dry climate to save precious water resources, as well as increase harvest, promoting food security and self-sufficiency in agricultural production of rural areas. Their innovative approach tackles the issue of soil erosion and desertification, while also making a social impact by creating job opportunities in a new field of research.

Next steps for AR-ENA

Currently, the start-up focuses on legal registration of the company, seeking additional venture capital and hiring full-time staff. First, they will focus on irrigated areas and nurseries that grow annual crops, which form 62% of the total market, as their primary target. Next, the start-up plans to target smaller farms, hotels, schools etc. as their second target. AR-ENA´s future plans include expanding into new markets, enhancing their product range, increasing production capacity, and forming strategic partnerships. The company aims to enhance their technological capabilities, solidify their presence in the Middle East and explore opportunities in other regions facing similar agricultural challenges to broaden their impact.

AR-ENA, which joined the ISC3 Global Start-up Service in August 2021, actively addresses SDGs 1 (No Poverty), 2 (Zero Hunger), 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), and 15 (Life on Land).