Conventional wisdom suggests that if you build a better mousetrap, customers will beat a path to your door. Si Technologies, a Dutch agricultural company, has found that it is somewhat more complicated.
They have a product that will produce better and healthier crop yields with a minimum of pesticides and fungicides, but the hurdles are similar to those of many new ideas— institutional wariness.
Si Technologies produces a product called NewSil, a spray that allows plants to absorb silicon, which results in a reduction of water usage of 30-50% while producing the same yield without using harmful chemicals.
“It’s a slow building process,” said CEO Bart AJ de Jonge, the CEO who recently discussed his company at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in The Hague. “It becomes part of the food chain, and every government wants to make sure it’s safe.”
“It’s in a category all of its own. It is not a fertilizer. It has taken up to three years to get registered in places like India and South Africa,” he added. “Then, it is a hurdle to build a distribution network for a totally new product.”
Si Technologies was one of several dozen innovators under the Securing Water for Food (SWFF) program attending the 2019 Global Entrepreneurship Summit that hosted 1,200 entrepreneurs and around 300 investors.
With any new product—particularly one dealing with agriculture—there are numerous hoops to jump through, particularly with the controversies over pesticides and genetically modified science.
“NewSil is natural and 100 percent ecological and safe,” said de Jonge. “It was originally developed as a food supplement for humans and animals.”
Agriculture faces a tremendous challenge in feeding the world. Estimates are that by 2050, the planet will have two billion more people. This means it will take 50 to 60 per cent more food to feed everyone.
Given the unpredictable nature of climatic variation and diseases that impact crops, it will be imperative to find new and efficient ways of growing food (the goal of the SWFF program).
There’s another significant problem that appears when, as de Jonge puts it, “something new is offered up that appears too good to be true. In NewSil’s situation, it is locating and enticing distributors of the product.”
“A natural distributor ally—the agriculture giants—believe it is not necessarily in their interest to work with Si Tech,” de Jonge added. “They make and distribute pesticides and fungicides, and NewSil reduces the need for such chemicals.”
However, de Jonge said this situation could change over time as more agriculture companies realize that in the next decade some of their chemical products could be limited by restrictive regulation.
The company CEO added that Si Technologies’ innovation embraces a number of global sustainability development goals, and “we have been able to substantiate every benefit.”
“NewSil is able to improve water efficiency in agriculture. It allows farmers to cut back on the use of toxic chemicals making the world, our food and the farmer healthier,” he said. “It also enables farmers to improve their livelihoods through higher crop yields.”
De Jonge believes Si Technologies “can play an important role in making the world’s food sources cleaner and more sustainable, while giving small scale farmers a better life.”
Compared to what a farmer spends for fertilizer and pesticides, de Jonge said NewSil was a bargain, with $25 covering an entire hectare per season. “A farmer can immediately cut back on chemicals with NewSil and can earn the investment back in a short time,” said de Jonge.
Si Technologies has been successful in stabilizing silicic acid by adding the element boron, making it the first and only product that found a way to increase silicon uptake by plants.
The company entered into a robust competition five years ago under the worldwide SWFF program, which has partially funded the operation. Each year, Si Tech had to show progress and scalability to continue funding.
“This is not some snake oil. It is something a farmer needs to give the plant a proactive start so it is resilient to all the ravages that can impact a crop,” said de Jonge.