Trees now growing in the Groasis Waterboxx. Sahara desert, Morocco.

Trees now growing in the Groasis Waterboxx. Sahara desert, Morocco.

Pieter Hoff is the inventor and entrepreneur behind the Groasis Waterboxx, an anti-desertification technology product that allows for planting in dry, rocky, and eroded areas. Pieter, a former lily breeder, grower and exporter, learned that worldwide groundwater levels were declining with high speed, and he concluded that mankind would be out of irrigation water within a few centuries unless changes were made. This awareness drove Pieter to found his company Groasis to offer customers the Groasis Waterboxx, which utilizes water from air – rain and condensation – in order to grow plants and restore soil where it was never thought possible.

Groasis is a company with a significant social and environmental vision. During the last 2,000 years, people have cut over 2 billion hectares of once healthy forests, and these lands are now non-productive, infertile deserts that create poverty. One could say “man made deserts”. The use of the Groasis Waterboxx in these areas is a way to provide wealth and food for entire communities, while solving environmental problems like climate change and desertification. The ultimate vision of Groasis is to replant man made deserts and eroded areas by restoring the vegetation cover, to make these lands productive with fruit trees and vegetables, and ultimately to feed the world. If trees once grew there, they can grow there again.

Interview by Lauren DiPerna:

Pieter, can you tell us about your journey from lily breeder to Groasis?
As a lily breeder I had clients in over 50 countries buying my exclusive varieties. All of them were using drip irrigation and all of them were complaining about dropping water tables. In some countries more than 4 meters per year. So I started to think about a way to solve this and in 2003 I decided to dedicate the rest of my life to bring a solution to this problem.

Can you illustrate how your flagship product, the Groasis Waterboxx, works by taking us through the story of a project where it was used?
During the last 10 years I have developed a whole new way of planting, I call this the Groasis Technology, of which the Waterboxx is the central part. We dig a hole of 30 inches broad and 10 inches deep, add 40 liters of water to it in order create a column of humidity of approximately 4 meters. This is called a ‘capillary column’. Then we add some mycorrhizae that help to develop better roots. Then we plant the tree. And here I did an important discovery: while producing plants in nurseries, the roots grow horizontally and rounded in the pot. After planting this never recovers and that is why so many trees are blown away during a storm, their primary root has never grown downwards to anchor the tree. So I learned to prune the roots which causes that they resprout vertically downwards towards the watertable. Then I put the Groasis Waterboxx around the tree. The Waterboxx protects the tree against the sun giving it a shadow, the water in the box absorbs the heat so that the soil remains cool, and it adds each day a bit of water to the capillary humidity column. So the roots have humidity and moderate temperatures and start to grow with a speed of 1 cm vertically downwards. After one year they find sufficient humidity deep in the ground – over 4 meters – to keep the tree alive. We then lift the Waterboxx and plant the next tree.

Trees Growing in the Groasis WaterboxxWhat has been the most exciting part of your experience as an entrepreneur with Groasis so far?
The most exciting part is that almost daily I have more people supporting me starting their own programs. As an example I attach a photo of the work a Dutch woman who founded a foundation to help poor people in the Sahara desert in Morocco. The photos speak for themselves. I hope to inspire so many people in the end, that we will be able to replant the world before 2050. I see it as my task to offer the Groasis Technology that is so secure, and so cheap, that in the end everybody, governments, farmers, civilians, will start to implement it.

How about the greatest challenge?
The greatest challenge is to create the belief that we can do it.

There is an instrument in nature that can help solve what I call the “7 world problems”: the Tree. FAO and IUCN have published that we have over 2 billion hectares of man made deserts. So if this area was once green, and we were able to cut it, then this area can be green again, as we are also able to plant it. This is what happens with the “7 world problems” if we implement the Groasis Technology:

  • Erosion – trees will cover the soil and make it fertile again.
  • Poverty – each hectare of trees creates approximately 10K US$ of revenues. That is 20 trillion US$ extra economic development.
  • Food crisis – each hectare of fruit trees can produce 5 tons of sound food. 2 Billion hectares is 1 trillion tons of extra food.
  • Climate change – 2 billion extra hectares of fruit trees disconnect each year 10 billion tons of CO₂. That is more than we annually produce with fossil fuels. So we can neutralize all the present CO2 pollution to zero with planting trees producing food.
  • Unemployment – each hectare of trees creates one direct and indirect job. 2 Billion hectares of fruit trees create 2 billion jobs.
  • Rural-urban migration – when there are 2 billion extra jobs in rural areas, people will migrate back to the rural areas.
  • Sinking ground water levels – trees change the eroded soil into a sponge again and water tables will rise instead of drop.

Our solution must be based on a sound business model. The challenge is too big to solve, if the solution is based on receiving subsidies. So I have worked on making the use of the Groasis Technology so cheap, that the one who uses it, is able to make money with it. If making money is possible, finding capital will be easier. I worked on the dream of finding a cheap solution to replant our man made deserts with economically and ecologically interesting trees. I hope that before 2050 the Groasis Technology has helped to change the world into a green and fertile area where people love to live, are able to feed and educate their children, and have decent lives. There are 300 million small farmers in the world. Just as small as my grandfather’s and father’s company when I was a child. If each of these small farmers plants 7 hectares of fruit trees, the job is done. The Groasis Technology is now available, it is up to our governments if they want to have it happen. Governments worldwide spent 8 trillion US$ since 2008, in order to save banks. We need only 2 trillion US$ while using the Groasis Technology in order to plant the 2 billion hectares with fruit trees. So money cannot be the problem. If we vote for governments who are willing to do this, then we will be successful. So to conclude, it’s up to you if you want to have it happen!

Where do you see the greatest future opportunities for Groasis?
Everybody who has a piece of unproductive wasteland, can make a good living through implementing the Groasis Technology. It is my challenge to reach and bring this message to them.

Please share some advice for aspiring environmental and social entrepreneurs.

  1. Invent something original that creates a benefit for users. Your idea can be fantastic, but if the users have no benefits, you will be unable to introduce it.
  2. Be patient. From invention to successful introduction will cost 15 years.
  3. See that you have capital to fund the ‘valley of death’. This is the period between development and successful market introduction. Estimate at least 1M costs per year. If you cannot finance this, somebody else will buy you halfway the ‘valley of death’ and he will have the fruit, and you will have had the costs.
  4. See that the patents are always in your personal name, not in the name of the company. License them to the company.
  5. Be prepared to work hard, sacrifice, fight disbelief and be open to positive critics or advice, in order to enjoy the fruit of success.

Learn more about Groasis by visiting the website.