Blooming in the Desert: Groasis Saves Water and Reforests the World

Pieter Hoff used to breed flower bulbs, but in 2010, he turned his attention to a different kind of bloom: making trees grow in the desert. The idea was sparked by Hoff’s observation of food scarcity in the developing world. If he could apply the tactics he uses for tulip growing, he thought, could he impact the one billion people on the planet who don’t have enough food to eat?

Hoff says deforestation is one of the biggest factors in climate change and food security. So he developed a new tool that could reduce a seedling’s use of water by 90 percent and increase its survival rate by 90 percent, prompting him to found Groasis Tech, a company focused on advancing water-saving technology for arid climates.

The Waterboxx he created is a protective polypropylene cocoon that harvests water to keep a seedling alive in its first vulnerable years of life. The way it functions is simple: A 20-liter box is buried around a young seedling at transplanting, and the box collects dew and rainwater when available, distributing it back to the plant so that it can build up a water column before the water is lost to evaporation.

“In practice, the transplanted seedling will receive just enough water to survive, while it searches for water deep in the soil to develop a strong taproot,” said Hoff. “The taproot developed in this way will make the whole plant resilient to prolonged drought periods.”

After years of tinkering and tweaking, Hoff also created the Growboxx, a biodegradable version of the Waterboxx, made of recycled paper. This version is perfect for planting on difficult-to-reach rocks and mountains because the device need not be retrieved and removed. The added bonus of the Growboxx is that once it breaks down, it becomes fertilizer for the tree.

Now, Groasis, in partnership with the Institute for University Cooperation, is working with Securing Water for Food (SWFF) to help combat environmental erosion in Jordan. For countries in the Middle East and North Africa, where fragile ecosystems are plagued by long-term drought, Groasis could be a lifeline. The Waterboxx costs only $2 to $4 per unit, in comparison with more expensive and labor intensive options like drip irrigation, and it results in higher water retention.

Drip irrigation, for instance, loses about 50 percent of its water to evaporation, a problem Hoff’s inventions avoid by keeping water covered and below ground. Drip-irrigated soils also have a higher risk of disease and rising salinity levels. That explains why Groasis technology also produces 30 percent faster growth rates in addition to better survival and water retention.

With impact numbers like these, it’s no wonder then that the Netherlands’ Minister of Economic Affairs announced last month that they named Groasis a “Dutch National Icon.” The Netherlands offers this prestigious award to innovative projects that help address social issues on a large scale.

“We are very honored that Groasis has received the National Icon Award,” Hoff said. “This award acknowledges our position as one of the three most innovative companies in our country and highlights the promise that Groasis water-saving technologies hold.”

Hoff believes that reforestation can have a ripple effect, helping to mitigate not only climate change, but poverty as well.

“We call this the Treesolution,” explained Hoff. “There are approximately two billion hectares of degraded farmland on the planet. To put that in perspective, that’s the size of the United States and Canada combined. Productive trees in these area could help combat erosion, produce approximately 5 to 10 tons of food per hectare, stimulate economies, and eliminate around 15 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare.”

Want to learn more about Groasis? Check out their website here.