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Product, Service & Design Innovation
A Sound Solution:
How Palmear Is Revolutionizing Palm Tree Pest Control

Palmear’s acoustic-sensing, AI-powered app helps farmers monitor palm tree pest populations and deploy targeted interventions for effective control.

Everyone recognizes the unique shape of palm trees, their spider-like fronds conjuring up images of tropical serenity and relaxation. Yet, these trees are not merely symbols of exotic landscapes; they also play vital roles socially, economically and environmentally.

Oil and date palms are some of the most important palms in agriculture, producing oil for various industries and nutritious fruit enjoyed worldwide; the palm oil industry is worth US$65.08 billion and the date industry is worth US$13.06 billion. Beyond their roles in industry, palm trees also contribute to biodiversity — providing habitat and sustenance for diverse wildlife.

However, palm trees are at risk from palm pests — especially the red palm weevil (RPW), which is destroying millions of palm trees globally. In countries heavily reliant on palm products, these pests can lead to a severe reduction in crop yields, affecting food security and livelihoods. Furthermore, the loss of palm trees can disrupt local ecosystems and reduce the aesthetic and ecological value of affected areas. Detecting the RPW is difficult — they hide deep within palm trees, emit few detectable cues, and are often found only after causing substantial harm.

Enter Palmear, a pioneering startup based in Abu Dhabi, which has introduced an innovative solution for early pest detection — offering hope for the preservation of palm tree populations around the world.

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“Around 14 years ago I helped my father develop a date palm plantation in Jericho and I saw the problem firsthand. Farmers would actually use doctors' stethoscopes to try to understand where the pests were and I thought, ‘we can elevate this,’” Zeid Sinokrot, CEO and founder at Palmear, tells Sustainable Brands® (SB). “I wanted to build a product that solves the pest problem. I knew that it would involve sound and artificial intelligence; and I knew that we needed to develop a solution that could be easily used by farmers, is dust resistant, water resistant and highly accurate.”

The solution

Previously an engineer, Sinokrot founded Palmear in 2019 in the Jordan Valley — where he and his team worked to devise a solution to palm pests. Engaging with infested and dissected trees, they developed their AI-powered device which works by inserting a needle into a tree for 50 seconds. The company’s handheld Palm Air acoustic sensor then detects sounds in the tree and uses AI to decipher and analyze the sounds.

Palmear’s technology is incredibly effective at pinpointing early-stage pest presence, thereby facilitating precise interventions. The use of AI means that the technology is constantly learning and updating due to the influx of data, which sharpens its ability to distinguish various pest sounds — ultimately, advancing its knowledge and effectiveness.

“We have seen the impact our technology has wherever it's deployed. For example, it cuts pesticide use by 40 percent; decreases tree mortality by 15 to 20 percent; and therefore, increases yields by 15 to 20 percent,” Sinokrot exclaims. “Our users realize they don’t need to blanket-spray pesticides everywhere — they can do it in a better way, which not only benefits the environment but also has an economic benefit, too.”

“Palmear's system is designed to precisely identify and treat only the trees that are affected by pests, significantly reducing the need for pesticides. This not only results in lower maintenance costs but also ensures a healthier end product and safer environment,” Eva Herceg — Agricultural Researcher at Palmear, tells SB.

Anas Al-Ghananim, a Palmear agricultural engineer, uses the app to scan a tree | Image courtesy of Zeid Sinokrot

Insecticides have been the go-to solution for RPW control, but their effectiveness is increasingly questioned. RPWs often reside deep within a palm tree's core, making it challenging for insecticides to reach and eliminate them effectively. Over time, RPWs have also developed resistance to many commonly used chemicals — rendering insecticides less potent. The excessive use of these chemicals not only exacerbates environmental pollution but also poses a threat to beneficial insects and the ecosystem at large. Furthermore, the financial burden of continuous insecticide applications can be crippling for palm farmers.

Palmear’s technology offers an alternative pest-control measure that mitigates the negative economic and environmental impacts of current practices. To date, the company reports having saved over 120,000 palm trees and 8,400 tonnes of CO2. The technology also helps to increase farmers' resilience which is crucial as temperatures rise causing pest populations to increase and spread out globally.

“On a macro level, we work with governments around the world; the red palm weevil is a threat to national food security — so, understanding where the pest hotspots are is very important — and our data allows governments to deploy resources to the right place to control the situation,” Sinokrot says. “On a micro level, it increases farmers' resilience — the warmer the climate, the better it is for the pests; so, we need to provide farmers with a way to resolve this problem for palms and all other crops.”

Palmear is working with governments, municipalities and plantations to record and anticipate pest infestations and facilitate large-scale data-driven decision-making through its platform. This innovative pest-detection solution could be a critical tool for both farmers and governments in effectively managing future pest threats, safeguarding trees, and globally documenting invasive species and pest distribution.

The company has established partnerships with several governments eager to collaborate. However, like any new technology, there is initial skepticism among local farmers, leading to slower adoption. Nevertheless, Palmear remains optimistic that as farmers recognize the impact their device has, its adoption will gain momentum on a global scale.

“The nice thing with Palmear is that you can see the effect directly with farmers, because they can immediately listen and act accordingly,” Sinokrot explains.

“One of the most impressive achievements during my time at Palmear has been witnessing firsthand the positive impact our system has on local farmers,” Herceg says. “By minimizing crop losses and stopping pest infestations in their tracks, we help save their livelihoods while also promoting healthier agricultural practices — the visible joy and relief on their faces is priceless.”

Myriad other applications

Palmear's device harbors substantial potential for diverse applications — the same acoustic and AI technology could be harnessed to monitor and manage pests and diseases in a wide range of agricultural crops. Moreover, the system's capability to understand and interpret sounds holds promise for soil biodiversity assessment and regenerative agriculture — aiding in the quest for healthier and more productive ecosystems.

“Currently, people are using invasive sampling to find out what’s living under the soil and how biodiverse it is — we're doing a lot of work measuring soil biodiversity through sound,” Sinokrot says. “Soil biodiversity is very important for regenerative agriculture to understand how healthy the soil is; and sound can help with this. I think the future will involve understanding and communicating with nature and decrypting it, to find solutions to our problems.”

As Palmear continues to refine and expand its technology, the possibilities for its applications extend to diverse agricultural, ecological and environmental contexts, paving the way for a more resilient and sustainable future.

“It's not only about the red palm weevil — there's so many use cases that the same underlying technology can be applied to quickly and in an affordable manner. Given that, I think we will lead the way for AI and acoustics in agroforestry and agriculture for global solutions,” Sinokrot says.