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Integrating bio-treated wastewater with enhanced water use efficiency to support the Green Economy in EU and India

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EU-India cooperation opens market for water-efficiency innovations

European and Indian researchers together have developed and tested new water efficiency technologies, targeted at the agricultural sector, and identified new commercial opportunities for SMEs interested in scaling-up and marketing these innovations.

Climate Change and Environment

In order to avoid instances of starvation, disease and conflict over resources in the future, coordinated global efforts are urgently needed to put into practice smarter and more sustainable methods of using and reusing water. This is especially pressing in rural-based economies, where between 70 and 90 % of freshwater is currently used in agriculture-related irrigation. This is simply unsustainable when one considers that in order to feed our growing population, almost 50 % more food must be produced by 2030, and must double by 2050. ‘Increasing water efficiency is fundamental to improving human wellbeing and social equity and to reducing environmental risks and resource scarcity,’ explains WATER4CROPS project coordinator Antonio Lopez from the Istituto di Ricerca Sulle Acque (IRSA) del Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR) in Italy. Identifying sustainable opportunities In order to achieve this goal, this EU-funded project, which brought together European and Indian institutions, universities, industries and SMEs, sought to identify innovative technical improvements and best practices in wastewater bio-treatment and water efficiency techniques, along with potential new agri-business opportunities. Large-scale field trials were run in both regions. From these/as a result, the project was able to demonstrate effective methods for obtaining valuable products and chemicals from agro-food industry wastewaters, and how urban wastewater can be treated by technologically simple and economic sustainable plant-based technologies. By twinning successful examples from both Europe and India, the project was able to transfer knowledge and best practices. WATER4CROPS also showed that water saving and efficient water use can be achieved through the careful selection of optimised irrigation systems and strategies, and through accurate technologically-assisted estimations of crop water requirements. Drought tolerant crops were improved through selective plant breeding. Details of the successful trials can be found at the project’s website. ‘Famers in Europe and India clearly stand to benefit from these positive results, but chemical industries should also be interested in the possibilities of recovering valuable products from agro-food wastewaters,’ says Lopez. ‘We also identified opportunities for local tech firms in developing and implementing advanced water-saving and recovering technologies.’ Turning results into reality The results achieved were presented and discussed during several “INNOVA” stakeholder platforms, which were held in both Europe and India throughout the project’s lifespan. ‘One of things that was original and indeed challenging about our approach was that we really involved stakeholders – local technology producers and users, retailers and regulators – in order to ensure that our results were truly implementable,’ says Lopez. ‘Through these platforms, local bottlenecks in economic development were identified, along with locally existing frameworks to advance wastewater use in irrigated agriculture.’ Lopez points out that not everything is in the hands of researchers, and the project also examined the impact of regulations. ‘In Europe for example, legislation on agricultural wastewater reuse is often so strict that they limit technology uptake, while in India, lack of reliable regulations or enforcements means the incentive to invest in treatment is less,’ says Lopez. ‘The challenge for any government or regulator is to strike a balance between being strict and lenient in setting water quality standards, and the project has sought to aids policy makers in making these calls.’ Following the completion of the project, Lopez is now keen to see promising technologies put to market as soon as possible. ‘Over the course of this project, we saw the technical readiness of several technologies improve greatly. What we now need are larger pilot projects devoted to validate these technology clusters. I would like to see these pilots build upon technologies for which proof of concept has already been established; these technologies can then be applied, improved and developed for actual use. In the long term, we hope that our solutions will lead both Europe and India towards realising a green economy.’


WATER4CROPS, water efficiency, SMEs, EU-India collaboration, INNOVA, agro-food industry, wastewater, sustainability, resource efficiency

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