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The following is a profile on one of the six startups that have been chosen to be in the second edition of PepsiCo’s Greenhouse Accelerator Program: MENA Sustainability Edition– an annual program to support regional entrepreneurs or startups that are tackling a variety of climate-related challenges.
Stunted plant growth, depletion of essential soil nutrients, polluted groundwater, increased number of pests, the release of harmful greenhouse gasses into the air- these are just a few of the side-effects of continued use of chemical fertilizers in farming. Now, jog your memory back to your high school science classes, and you’ll realize that this isn’t particularly new information. Yet, it is an issue that has long plagued those working within agriculture- and helping farmers with eco-friendly alternatives is Lebanon-based startup Dooda Solutions.
Launched in 2018, Dooda Solutions essentially operates an earthworm farm and leverages advanced technologies to produce high-quality solid and liquid vermicompost. Now, if you’re unfamiliar with what vermicompost is, it is simply the final product of a fully organic process wherein certain species of earthworms are used to decompose plant materials. “By utilizing innovative techniques and scientific methods, we raise earthworms in a controlled environment to produce premium grade vermicompost,” Nada Ghanem, founder and Managing Director, says. “Our vermicompost products are carefully crafted to enhance soil health, as well as to provide sustainable solutions for farmers. With our headquarters nestled amidst the natural beauty of the Lebanese Shouf mountains, we draw inspiration from the rich ecosystem surrounding us. From this base, we are driven to make a positive impact on agriculture, the environment, and the socio-economic wellbeing of farmers in Lebanon and beyond.”
Source: Dooda Solutions
Having realized the significant value in introducing organic fertilizers to the region, Ghanem and her team realized that a big part of their scaling strategy would require spreading awareness about the benefits of vermicompost. “The MENA region is one of the most water-scarce areas globally, facing limited freshwater resources, and high levels of water stress, and so, one of the main challenges we address is soil degradation,” Ghanem says. “Many farmers struggle with declining soil quality, leading to decreased crop productivity, and increased reliance on chemical fertilizers. Our vermicompost products -derived from organic waste processed by earthworms- restore soil health by improving its structure, increasing nutrient availability, and enhancing microbial activity. This not only helps farmers achieve higher crop yields, but also reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers, minimizing environmental pollution, and promoting long-term soil sustainability.”
But Dooda’s environment-friendly impact doesn’t end with just negating the repercussions of using chemical compost. For one, the startup is directly addressing the MENA region’s mismanagement of organic waste disposal. As per a 2021 research paper released by International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), an international, not-for-profit applied agricultural research center, nations in the MENA have been threatened by acute air pollution, contamination of water bodies, and climate change due to increasing amounts of organic waste over the last two decades.
“Because Dooda Solutions innovatively utilizes organic waste as a valuable input for our earthworms, converting it into nutrient-rich vermicompost, we contribute to the circular economy, and thus reduce the carbon footprint associated with waste disposal,” Ghanem explains. “Furthermore, our vermicompost products promote water conservation. By enhancing soil structure and water retention capacity, they help reduce the amount of irrigation water required, addressing water scarcity concerns, and promoting efficient resource utilization.”
Nada Ghanem, co-founder, Dooda Solutions. Source: Dooda Solutions
In a bid to cater to a wide range of farming requirements, Dooda Solutions produces different kinds of vermicompost. “Our products include Ecosoil (solid vermicompost), as well as Foliar and Soil Drench (liquid vermicompost),” Ghanem explains. “All of these cater to the needs of farmers, distributors, and potential export markets. But in addition, we also offer specialized liquid vermicompost options with different nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) ratios to meet specific nutrient requirements. Our vermicompost has been proven to increase crop yields by up to 50%, and improve seed germination rates by 30%. They also reduce water requirements for irrigation by 30%, and minimize pest attacks by 75%. Additionally, our vermicompost helps restore soil health, and promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria and enzymes.”
Now, according to Ghanem, the effectiveness of her startup’s products alone is its sole differentiating factor. But the co-founder mentions that an intentional aspect of Dooda Solutions’ strategy is to not limit its services to just supplying an organic, eco-friendly alternative to conventional fertilizers. “Backing our operations is a team of experts with extensive knowledge in earthworm farming and vermicompost production,” she says. “And so, we provide comprehensive support to our customers, including soil analysis, tailored fertilizing solutions, and advice on crop selection. This expertise ensures that farmers can maximize the benefits of our vermicompost, and optimize their agricultural practices.”
Besides finding favor with its target market, Dooda Solutions has also secured non-equity grants worth US$150,000 to further its growth, and its application for PepsiCo’s Greenhouse Accelerator program was thus just another step in this direction. “It was about connecting with like-minded entrepreneurs, potential partners, and investors who share our vision for sustainable agriculture,” Ghanem explains. “These connections can open doors to new markets, funding opportunities, and strategic partnerships that will accelerate the growth of our venture. Like any startup, we face challenges that we hope the program can help us overcome. Scaling our operations effectively and expanding into new markets is a key challenge. Through the program’s resources and support, we aim to develop robust expansion strategies, and access the necessary resources to reach our target markets efficiently.”
Source: Dooda Solutions
And while the next six months will certainly be crucial for Dooda Solutions, Ghanem has already set goals that go beyond that timeline. “Our ultimate aim is to create a strong foothold in the market, and position ourselves as a leading provider of premium vermicompost solutions,” Ghanem reveals. “Looking beyond the program, our vision and end-goal for Dooda Solutions is to become a leading international player in vermicompost production, and to promote sustainable agricultural practices. We envision expanding our operations across the MENA region, and eventually entering European markets. By establishing Dooda farms in various countries, we aim to unlock new markets, and provide sustainable solutions for farmers worldwide.”