With climate change drying out soils, new water-retaining solutions are emerging – opening up opportunities to make non-productive land arable. Traditionally, agriculture has been reliant on rainfall patterns or irrigation systems, but the products within the field of moisture tech have the potential to cut this dependency and ensure arable soils.


Climate change leads to an increase in the frequency and severity of droughts. It dries out our soils, and, with global food demand growing exponentially, it is critical that we find a way to combat this trend. Fortunately, new technologies are enabling soils to act as sponges and better retain water, making food production less dependent on rainfall and temperature and saving food producers money in the process.

The market for water-retaining soil solutions is an exciting and constantly developing. Part of the products are based on nanotechnology. In the case of water retention, nanoclay can turn dry sandy soils into fertile land. This product, when applied to soils, acts as a sponge that helps the soil retain water.

A new technology is also emerging called Subsurface Water Retention Technology (SWRT) with the ability to improve the water storage capacity of soils. It consists of membranes installed within the soil profile to prevent the loss of water via deep percolation. These water-saving membranes are a new innovation designed to retain water while permitting extended root growth beyond the depths of the membranes.

Another innovative product is the low-tech plant cocoon. This is a small shelter that houses and protects plants in their early stages of development. These shelters guard saplings from drying winds, allow for gradual release of water to the root system, and collect rainwater and dew to replenish reserves. Once the plant has reached maturity, the cocoon dissolves into organic substrate that helps the plant continue to flourish.

Soil moisture sensors are products enabling farmers to manage soil moisture in a smart way via constant access to data on the water content in the soils. Finally, an emerging element to this opportunity is the use of treated urban and industrial wastes to contribute to increased water retention in poor soils.

TDrought and desertification cause the loss of 12 million hectares of land each year – three times the size of Switzerland – on which 20 million tonnes of grain could have been grown. In China alone, more than 400 million residents are affected by desertification each year, causing a direct annual economic loss exceeding 10 billion USD.

The resulting potential market sizes of remedies against desertification are enormous. The potential to put drylands to productive use is a market driver in the face of increasing food demand. Forty percent of the Earth’s land surface is occupied by drylands – home to around 2 billion people.

The global soil moisture sensor market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.2 percent between 2015 and 2020 and reach 206.2 million USD by 2020.

Key Numbers


to transform desert soil into fertile land with Liquid NanoClay


increase in plant root zone’s water and nutrient holding capacity with Soil Water Retention Technology


Up to 50% increase in crop yield with Novihum


SDGs - Conflict free natural resources

Solutions for this Opportunity

Keeping the Roots Hydrated

The Subsurface Water Retention Technology developed by Dr. Alvin Smucker at Michigan State University is polyethylene film barriers that limits the loss of water and fertilizer from the root zone into groundwater.
Location: Libya & USA See this solution

Agricultural Moisture Retention

GelTech Solutions’ Soil2O has the ability to absorb water and nutrients within the soil, which is then slowly released where the plant needs it most.
Location: USA See this solution

Biodegradable Polymers Increase Drought Resilience

TryEco developed AgriSorb, a starch-based, biodegradable Super Absorbent Polymer decrease water use while increasing the length of time between irrigation cycles.
Location: USA See this solution

Water Cocoon Prepares Sampling for Droughts

The polypropylene Groasis Waterboxx® harvests water to keep a young sprout alive in its first years by using a box buried around the plant which collects dew and rainwater when available.
Location: Ecuador, USA, Morocco, and KuwaitSee this solution

Reversing Soil Time

Novihum uses biotechnology to reactivate the carbon molecules to turn them into the kind of compounds found in fertile soil. The technology can improve crop yields by up to 50 percent and restore soil fertility for over a decade.
Location: EU See this solution

Plant Water Reservoir

Agicel’s SkyGel is an eco-friendly hydrophilic gel that acts as a long-term reservoir of water and nutrients readily available to plants, and enables cultivation even in extreme conditions.
Location: Japan, China, and Australia See this solution

Smart Soil Moisture Sensor

CropX’s low-cost sensor monitors the soil water content and can adjust irrigation to match exact plant needs. The sensors increase crop yields while simultaneously cutting water usage by one third.
Location: Israel and USA See this solution

NanoClay Technology and Dense Moringa Plantings

Nanoclay is a technology to physically and molecularly transform the structure and capabilities of sandy soil. Sandy soil can by adding a small amount of clay become arable land.
Location: Global See this solution



The market for applying technology to improve soils’ ability to retain water has been assessed very positively by respondents from China and North America. Leaders in these two regions rank the opportunity as the runner-up with respect to its benefits for society and the capacity of the regions to pursue it.

Globally, the opportunity is ranked number 6 on both of these parameters. According to the survey, it appears the market is most appealing to respondents under the age of 30 as well as to women.

Capacity to Grow the Market

In general, the surveyed leaders believe the political and economic capacities to further develop the market already exist. However, they perceive a lack of technological capacity to be a limiting factor in developing the market. This indicates further innovation in technology is needed to fully capitalise on this market.

In China, moisture tech is considered the opportunity business has the greatest capacity to pursue. In Europe and Other Asia (Japan and Russia) the capacity is also perceived to be very high. Hence, we can expect the market to mature most rapidly in these three regions.

Opportunity Business Case

New technology to enhance soil fertility via water retention is positively welcomed in Sub Saharan Africa. Business leaders in this region are the ones who see the best business case in this market compared to leaders in the other regions.

Sector Impact

The financial sector appears most likely to actively engage in this market. According to the survey, the financial sector is also the most optimistic about the positive impacts of this opportunity on society – making it a potential impact investment market.
Survey results from China and South America reveal a readiness by civil society, politicians, and business to actively work on driving the moisture tech market through advocacy.


Perceived benefits from pursuing this opportunity (x), and capacity to do so (y), World and geographic regions. Scale goes from -10 to +10.



Across geographic regions. Scale goes from -10 to +10.


Across business sectors regions. Scale goes from -10 to +10.

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