Innovation Interviews: AQUA4D, for efficient use of irrigation water. An interview with Eric Valette
For AQUA4D, it is clear that the way we treat water is key to reaching sustainability goals on a global scale. For this reason, this innovative Swiss company advocates for more sustainable use of water through three essential pillars: precision irrigation, sustainable buildings and animal health.
Eric Valette, CEO and Co-Founder of AQUA4D, has opened his company’s doors to help us know how they are achieving their project’s goals and what is their experience in regards to EU Funding.
Animation: How AQUA4D saves water while increasing yields, AQUA4D.
Nowadays, contributing to more sustainable living is getting more important than ever before. Was this concern crucial to develop AQUA4D? How did you come up with the idea for your innovation?
The company’s mission from the outset has always been to sustainably improve the water efficiency of companies with a positive impact on the health of people and planet.
According to the Global Innovation Index 2020, Switzerland is the world’s most innovative country. What do you think about the innovation ecosystem of Switzerland? Could you please tell us which are the key factors that put your country at the top again?
A reliable research system, coupled with a sophisticated market with innovative firms and a stable political system allow Switzerland to remain on the most innovative country worldwide for the 10th consecutive year.
Aqua4D emerges in the midst of this ecosystem intending to contribute to more efficient water consumption. How do you think you are achieving this objective all over the world? How do you believe AQUA4D is contributing to more efficient water consumption across the globe?
The water cycle is one planetary system, so better treatment of water in one industry can have positive effects in another. If fewer chemicals are used to soften water or keep pipes clean, eventually, less of these substances enter the water supply, which will at some stage end up in irrigation systems. And if fewer chemicals or hormones are used in animals’ drinking water, this is kept out of precious groundwater.
On a more comprehensive societal level, and consistent with Sustainable Development Goals, if growers in water-scarce regions can sustainably transform their poor irrigation quality, this leaves precious potable water available for human consumption. And if plants need to be irrigated 30% less frequently, we will be able to save more water. This situation contributes to circular sustainability and improves water efficiency from tap to field and beyond.
If growers in water-scarce regions can sustainably transform their poor irrigation quality, this leaves precious potable water available for human consumption. And if plants need to be irrigated 30% less frequently, we will be able to save more water. This situation contributes to circular sustainability and improves water efficiency from tap to field and beyond.
Your production and staff have continued growing in the last years, and Planet Horizons Technologies is present in more than 40 countries now. Could you please tell us more about the key factors/context of this growth?
Unfortunately, a major global challenge in the coming years will be to ensure food security and to feed the increasing human population. Although a 35% population increment is projected by 2050, an increase of 60-75% in food demand is anticipated, due to economic development and changes in food preferences.
In parallel, there is a degradation of resources (soils, water), and climate change is worsening the situation. Significant improvements are consequently necessary for the agriculture sector in terms of resource use efficiency, and AQUA4D can tangibly help in producing more with fewer resources (water, fertilisers, energy), taking irrigation management to a very high level of precision. There is a growing concern about these smart agriculture technologies, and we want to be able to serve all markets where AQUA4D could be a true game-changer.
We know that you are currently going further developing projects related to precision irrigation, sustainable buildings and animal health. How could you focus on different projects and markets at the same time?
It is a good question. We would like to do more, but the reality is that we need to focus on being efficient. That is the reason why we are not developing other industrial sectors, and why we are mainly focusing worldwide on precision irrigation among these three sectors, concentrating on more local markets for sustainable buildings and animal health.
What role has the European Commission played in achieving your objectives? Tell us about how this institution has helped AQUA4D in its development process.
Today, in precision irrigation, we serve mainly the market of fruits, vegetables, and flowers, irrigated with micro-irrigation. But more than 80% of the irrigated lands concern the large-scale crops irrigated by pivots. To have a more substantial impact, we needed to develop and serve this vast market. The European Commission believed in our water-smart project and supported us to accelerate our product development, together with the marketing and commercial approaches.
What was your experience at the Brussels’ pitch? What do you think are the essential tips when you are pitching your project?
It is both awesome and overawing to be in Brussels in front of this experts panel.
We need to be very well prepared for the pitch and clear, concise and honest during the questions session.
You have recently finished the first year of your project implementation. How has been your experience during this period?
Like many companies, we have been impacted by the COVID-19 situation, except minor delays, we respect the initial timeline, and we will be able to serve the market with this new AQUA4D-Pivot product line by the end of 2021.
Have you applied for other funding programmes? If so, how was your experience?
We have also been supported by the Swiss Climate Foundation, regarding the greenhouse gas emissions reduction we can achieve with this project: significant energy savings on top of all the other agronomic benefits.
How has Evolution helped you with your funding strategy? How was our collaboration?
I have to admit that Evolution has been key in this funding strategy, with clear expertise to ensure efficient submission in each step of the procedure.
There’s just one question left: What are your expectations for the future?
We are active in a promising sector, helping to face one of the main worldwide challenges sustainably, and we have many synergies with many different actors, which is very rare.
We are in touch with growers, agronomical experts, hydrological experts, irrigation managers, irrigation companies (both micro and macro irrigation), filters companies, monitoring companies, horticulture companies, major seeds companies, major fertilizers companies, retailers, food companies, growers’ associations, cooperatives, global multilateral stakeholders. We are complementary to each of these actors, and we can build successful win-win collaborations for a better future.
For us, it’s been a real pleasure to work with you on this project. We firmly believe that your innovation will have a significant impact on water consumption worldwide. Thank you, Eric, for sharing with us your exciting adventure, and we wish you the best of luck!