Pieter Hoff used to be a tulip farmer in Holland. Now he designs and sells the Groasis Waterboxx, a dew-harvesting system that staves off desertification in dry places. And he isn’t doing badly. Since making his career switch, he’s sold more than 300,000 units around the world, and he has several new products planned.
The Waterboxx, which first appeared on the market in 2010, is a round plastic container that captures condensation as the air cools at night. Droplets form on its channeled upper surface, falling into a container at the bottom, where water keeps roots moist. The boxes are planted in the ground as if they were shrubs, with saplings or plants growing through the middle.
The boxes help extend the natural growing season, Hoff says. Instead of having to complete germination and early growth within a short rain window, plants can draw on saved water until they’re established. They boxes are also less expensive than a drip-feed irrigation system: a pack of 10 costs only $250 from the Groasis web store.
Hoff got the idea while watching his tulips in his greenhouses, and seeing how water formed on their leaves and petals. Here he is speaking at Poptech back a while back:
Hoff has worked hard to get the box out there, though it hasn’t been easy. He’s struggled to find capital for expansion. He’s yet to build a distribution network outside his web operation. And, he says he now has at least three copycat rivals, from Israel, Brazil, and Holland.
Still, Hoff sees a big market in places at risk at from desertification, of which there are plenty. One recent study found that 38% of the world’s land could cease to be useful for agriculture in the future, with parts of North Africa, the Middle East, Australia, South West China, and the western side of South America all vulnerable.
Hoff has sold the Waterboxx to customers in the U.S., Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Kuwait, Oman, and Dubai, and is now developing a second, biodegradable box made from cardboard. The new GreenBoxx will be disposable, unlike the original polypropylene box, which can be reused 10 times. He’s currently testing a fourth prototype as part of a European Union-funded initiative in Spain and is looking for other partners.
Hoff’s ultimate aim isn’t only to create environments for growing food and other plants. It’s to rebuild the planet’s natural CO2-capturing capacity. He estimates that 2 billion hectares of new trees–what he calls “CO2 disconnection machines”–would be enough to curtail climate change.
“We have the disconnection machine available,” he says. “We have the area available. We have the tools to plant this area. There is money enough to do it. The only question that remains is: do you have the will to do it?”