Question and Answer Series: An Innovative Farming Box Designed to Save Water
This entry was written in collaboration with Securing Water for Food: A Grand Challenge in Development, an organization which funds innovators with new ideas designed to reduce water usage in farming. It is the second of a six-part blog series featuring answers from innovators whose designs have been recognized internationally. The first entry featured Ethiopia's Aybar Engineering, and below are insights from Groasis Tech founder and inventor Pieter Hoff, whose Groasis Waterboxx invention precisely targets dispension of water over an extended amount of time.
1) First, tell us a bit about why you decided to create the product that you are now marketing.
As a grower and breeder of flower bulbs, I travel around the world to visit my clients. They all used drip irrigation systems and complained about dropping water tables. I started to worry about our future because of what was, and still is, happening below ground. Anyone who grows anything knows there’s a disaster happening, but no one is doing anything about it. So, in 2003, I decided to sell my company and dedicate myself to finding a solution to stop the use of drip irrigation, which I consider a “sniper water killer.” Now, after 12 years of research, we can plant trees anywhere, no matter how harsh or dry the weather, with over 90 percent less water use at 10 percent of the cost of drip irrigation.
2) How does the innovation contribute to water savings?
The Groasis Waterboxx helps the tree’s roots penetrate the soil over three meters deep in the first year by providing a tree with the water it needs in early growth. Once the roots make it to three meters, there is always humidity, everywhere in the world. The available quantity of water at that depth defines the growth speed. So, the trees use the naturally available water and start to change the soil’s structure into a sponge. It results in a softer soil that better allows precipitation to infiltrate, further raising the amount of water in the soil.
3) Did you set out to create a product that dually benefited reducing water usage and supporting farmers' livelihoods, or did it emerge over time? If the former, what inspired you to want to solve for water issues?
I feel very connected to farmers. I was born just after World War II when Holland was struggling financially. As a child, I always worked in the field with my family. We were poor, and all the work was heavy and done by hand. Farming mechanization only started in the nineties, so until 1988 we harvested all potatoes and flower bulbs by hand. So, when I see poor, rural families worldwide, I know and understand their lifestyle. It’s what motivated me to help solve their water problems.
4) Building a social enterprise that benefits the marketplace—your company’s bottom line—and the social good is gaining ground in the international development space. What advice would you give to others trying to break into social enterprises that benefit social good that you wish you had before you started?
Being a social enterprise, and especially producing a social “likeable” product, is actually very dangerous. The “like” factor is so high that everybody starts to say, “Oh, so good, oh, so beautiful.” However, people buy, in the end, with their wallets, not with their hearts. A successful product is not a product that solves a problem but a product that solves a problem and is being bought to solve it.
So, keep your feet on the ground and forget about all people who are caressing your ego. The only good invention is an invention that sells. So, if your future client cannot pay for it, it’s not a good invention.
5) Tell us what your next steps are: How can Agrilinks community members benefit from your work and/or help advance the use of your product?
I would like to ask support in spreading the word, sharing my videos, developing projects and informing NGOs and international agencies like the World Bank, the African Development Bank, FAO and the Inter-American Development Bank that technology like the Groasis Waterboxx exists. Further on, we are launching the first private initiative to replant the Great Green Wall of Africa. You can join our newsletter to find out what you can do as the project develops.
Agrilinks community members can also help advance the use of our product and our approach in tree establishment by integrating them into their activities relating to tree plantation establishment, agroforestry and sustainable agriculture, the fight against desertification and ecological restoration.