Question and Answer Series: Fighting Crop Loss with Silicic Acid
This entry was written in collaboration with Securing Water for Food and is the fifth post in a six-part series featuring innovators with new and diverse ideas to reduce water usage in farming.
Si Technologies International has initiated the use of NewSil in India to expose crops to silic acid in an environmentally friendly way, allowing for the substantial decrease of crop loss in times of water sress and drought. Below, Bard de Jonge, CEO of Si Technologies International, answers our questions about the innovation and what the company hopes to achieve with it moving forward.
1) First tell us a bit about why you decided to create the product that you are now marketing.
We created this product because of the overwhelming evidence in scientific literature that silicon plays an important role in agriculture. The molecular form of silicon taken up by plants is silicic acid. However, this molecule is not stable and, therefore, not commercially available. But we invented a way to stabilize the silicic acid molecule and create a liquid that could be administered to plants by spraying.
2) How does the innovation contribute to water savings?
The product not only increases harvest yield and crop quality, it also optimizes water consumption of a plant. The water demand under dry conditions is substantially lower than normal, ranging from 10 to 30 percent less. Silicon closes the stomata in the leaves, reducing transpiration. In addition, it forms a silicon dioxide layer between the cuticula and the epidermis of the outer cell walls of the plant, reducing evaporation. In theory, this layer also serves as a heat synchronizer, allowing a more stable temperature within the plant during day and night time.
3) Did you set out to create a product that dually benefited reducing water usage and supporting farmers' livelihoods, or did it emerge over time? If the former, what inspired you/drove you to want to solve for water issues?
The astonishing effects of our product and its water reduction capabilities emerged over time. It was long believed silicon didn’t do anything to a plant, that a plant could grow to its full maturity without silicon. This is true for plants that grow up under optimal circumstances, such as a laboratory. However, if a plant is exposed to stress (drought, flooding, pests, infestations), it needs silicon to counter the negative effects from these stress factors. The beneficial effects of silicon on plant stress have been discovered over the past 40-50 years. We, at Si Technologies, used all this public knowledge once we succeeded in stabilizing silicic acid, and we can now benefit from it in targeting our product to those farmers that really need it.
4) Building a social enterprise that benefits the marketplace—your company bottom line—and the social good is gaining ground in the international development space. What advice would you give to others trying to break into social enterprises that benefit social good, advice you wish you had before you started?
My advice is always develop a product or service from a market-oriented standpoint. If you build a business and you cannot set up a profitable business case, you will fail in the long run. This does not mean the social aspect should get lost. The target market may benefit from your innovation and all good things may come their way. However, if they are not willing or able to pay a decent price for your service, they will lose the benefit from your product, and your enterprise will not survive.
Depending on the character of your technology, it may take time to convince your customers of its potential and get all permits, licenses and infrastructure in place. Make sure your organization has the (financial) back up and stakeholder commitment to make it through the difficult early years.
Securing Water for Food is soon to announce its fourth global call for innovations. You can find out more and sign up for updates at www.securingwaterforfood.org/4thcall.