The 16th of October marks World Food Day, an international day celebrated every year to commemorate the founding of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in 1945.

The theme of this year’s World Food Day is centred around water. According to the UN, water is food, prosperity, energy, and life. By taking better care of water we will help to create a more sustainable future.

As water usage and water waste is a driving factor in the global food production industry, Brunel spoke with two Dutch specialists ahead of World Food Day 2023, who each gave their thoughts and insights around innovations within the food and water industries and how these will lead to less waste and more sustainable production processes.

Food production management in the Netherlands  

Wilco van Eijk is a Senior Solutions Executive for Brunel based in the Netherlands. He has multiple years of experience as a Reliability Engineer and Technology Manager for a large food production company. Brunel asked him about the future of food production water management in the Netherlands, innovations currently being developed to tackle water waste, and how these could be implemented globally. This is what he had to say:

“The Netherlands has transformed itself into a global powerhouse in food production through innovative methods driven by the pressing issues of space and water scarcity. Nestled in a region where available land is at a premium and water management is a day-to-day challenge, the Dutch have found innovative solutions to not only feed their nation but also to be ranked number two in the export of food production worldwide.

Lettuce growing in innovative greenhouse

Vertical hydroponic and aeroponic farming

One of the standout innovations in Dutch agriculture is vertical hydroponic and aeroponic farming; cultivating crops in stacked layers often controlled in indoor environments. By using the hydroponic system (growing water-based instead of ground and soil-based) and adding advanced LED lights, vertical farming can produce crops year in and year out with a fraction of the water needed for traditional farming.

For example: To grow 1kg of tomatoes in traditional soil-based farming you will need 214 liters of water. By using hydroponics this is reduced to 70 liters.

Tomatos growing using hydroponics

The newer and improved innovation of aeroponics (the spraying of roots to grow crops) can do this with even less water, at only 20 liters of water required.

These types of solutions also resolve the challenge of square feet required to grow crops in a traditional way and have now been globally adopted.

Its innovations like vertical farming which can help to tackle the problems we have not only on a local but on a global basis looking into water scarcity for food production. We need to embrace innovation and adopt as many technologies as possible to contribute to a solution.

In-depth knowledge of technology plays a big role in this challenge. Utilising research and development initiatives and having the best and brightest technical specialists working on this challenge is a must.

We need to scale up incentives looking into new and thriving solutions. Governments, as well as large multinational companies, play a big role in the speed and decisiveness that is needed to globally address water efficiency.”


What is hydroponic farming?

Hydroponic farming eliminates the use of soil for a plant to grow. Instead, a different material is introduced to support the root growth and health of the plant.


In order for a hydroponic system to be successful it needs to provide the following five things to the plant: fresh water, oxygen, root support, nutrients, and light.


There are six main systems for hydroponic farming. These are deep water culture (DWC), nutrient film technique (NFT), ebb and flow, wick, drip, and aeroponics.


What is aeroponic farming?


Aeroponic farming is the process of growing plants within an air or mist environment and is one of the six basic types of hydroponic growing methods. With the roots suspended in the air, the plant is regularly sprayed with a nutrient-dense mist which provides the plant with the water, nutrients, and gasses it requires to grow.


The term ‘aeroponic farming’ was originally coined by the Dutch biologist Frits Warmolt Went in 1957. However, it was Richard J Stoner, founder of Genesis Technology Inc, who is often credited as being the ‘father of modern aeroponics’.


What is vertical farming?


Vertical farming involves stacking plants vertically on shelves or tall pillars to better utilise space upwards. This, in turn, allows for 10 times the crop yield for a given land area. As with other types of farming, specific requirements must be met and provided in order for the plant to be a success, such as (artificial) temperature, light, water, humidity, and nutrients.

Waterboards and wastewater management in the Netherlands

Brunel specialist Astrid Madsen is a Dutch-based climate and energy advisor for the public sector, for example for water companies and cities. Her focus is on realising the energy transition while safeguarding public values with a holistic approach.

Brunel spoke to her about the future of water management in the Netherlands and to gather her advice on what companies and organisations can do to improve the availability of high-quality water.

Enough clean water

To ensure the Netherlands continues to provide enough clean water, one of the main actions should be realising and maintaining chemically-clean and ecologically-healthy surface water and groundwater (as stated in the EU Water Framework Directive to achieve good status for Europe’s rivers, lakes, and groundwater).

This means avoiding pollution of the water and restoring, where needed, by legislation and cooperation.

The other major issue is to use less water and redesign our water systems to retain (rain) water so it can boost the groundwater levels. This is especially important after periods of drought. 

Wastewater treatment plants

When it comes to innovative practices, companies can adopt to ensure sustainable water management. Astrid states that new methods of cleaning water (both drinking water as well as processes in the wastewater treatment plants) also need to be looked at and implemented.

As well as this, cities, waterboards, and drinking water companies need to work together to improve the water systems, both in terms of quality (creating and keeping it clean) as well as quantity (using less and providing a buffer for periods of drought). There have already been examples of major Dutch water companies working in collaboration to this end, realising cross-sectoral solutions. 

Challenges still faced by Dutch water companies

However, there are still challenges for Dutch water boards to overcome. According to Astrid, solutions can be found in technology (e.g. investing in innovations), organisations (e.g. better cooperation between different stakeholders), and rules and regulations (e.g. the creation of legal frameworks to avoid further or new pollution).

Society itself can also play an important role by being encouraged to consider their water consumption use or to eat a more plant-based diet which traditionally requires less water.

Man drinking from water bottle in mountain landscape

Collaboration among governments, the private sector, farmers, academia, civil society, and individuals is imperative to address global water challenges. The essential goal is to enhance food and vital agricultural production while minimising water usage. This hinges on embracing innovative solutions, and the choices and actions of each individual hold significant transformative power in safeguarding our water resources.

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