Good water management – a tool to cope with water scarcity within the framework of smart agriculture

EIT Community Water Scarcity
Irrigation system in function watering agriculutural plants

The great challenge facing humanity is how to produce more with fewer resources in a context of climate change. Agriculture, which consumes 70% of the world’s freshwater, will be one of the sectors most affected by climate change. Indeed, water scarcity is one of the major current and future problems in southern Europe and solutions need to be found urgently. In this context, the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) has selected SMEs and start-ups from 15 European countries to participate in the EIT Community Water Scarcity initiative. These companies have created solutions at an advanced stage of development, ranging from devices to obtain drinking water from the air to sensors that improve irrigation efficiency. The selected companies have the potential to improve the efficiency and sustainability of production processes in different socio-economic sectors in Europe. They will be eligible for prizes of up to 30,000 euros, which will enable them to test their solutions with end-customers.

Arable land surface area is diminishing worldwide due to the expansion of cities, especially in Asia and Latin America, and due to drought and the degradation of fertile soils. By 2030, an estimated 47% of the population will be living in water-stressed areas (where demand for water exceeds available supply). And, above all, there will be more of us.

The Earth’s population will increase by 2,000 million people in the next 30 years, reaching 9,700 million by 2050. Increased production to feed the growing population will not come from an increase in the number of hectares under cultivation, but from greater efficiency achieved through smart and precision agriculture, in which intelligent, sustainable irrigation and digitalisation represent great opportunities.

The main developments in the agricultural sector are aimed at improving the hydraulic and operational efficiency of networks through the installation of meters with remote reading capabilities and network sensorization. Smart irrigation, based on the real water requirements of crops, soil moisture and weather forecasts, is also possible thanks to advances in remote sensing and sensors. Technological solutions and automatic reprogramming enable the implementation of precision irrigation, which optimises water consumption and improves environmental sustainability by reducing water footprint and carbon footprint.

The EIT Community Water Scarcity initiative is coordinated by EIT Food and also features the participation of EIT Climate-KIC, EIT Digital and EIT Manufacturing, as well as other partners such as Athena Research Centre, Bioazul and TU Delft. The initiative seeks to facilitate the transition to a water-saving economy and contribute, in the long term, to reducing consumption, waste and pollution of water in Europe.

Within the framework of the initiative, a call for proposals was launched last March for SMEs and start-ups with innovative solutions capable of responding to the water resource management needs of different sectors. A total of 40 start-ups and SMEs were selected from 15 countries: Spain, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, Austria, Portugal, France, Finland, Ireland, Hungary, Sweden, Bulgaria, Germany and Israel.

Published in: #91 FuturENVIRO June – July 2022