Loïc Couttelle, Project Director at 2EI, a Veolia subsidiary

“Urban agriculture, Veolia’s new business line”
Published in the dossier of December 2019

A farmer in the Lille area who joined Veolia 25 years ago, over the past five years Loïc Couttelle has become interested in building new agricultural systems and exploring the role that Veolia could play in this.

Loïc Couttelle, Project Director at 2EI, a Veolia subsidiary

What credibility has Veolia in urban agriculture?

This is going to become a strategic issue for cities. One of Veolia’s missions is supporting regions in the challenges that arise, particularly the question of food. Awareness is rising, requests are flooding in, but decision-makers are rather at a loss when it comes to constructing agricultural production systems.
Veolia can help them in two ways. By calling on its three areas of expertise: water, as agriculture requires water management for irrigation; waste, as recycling of the organic matter produced by the city must be controlled; and, in certain cases, energy, to recreate climates conducive to production. Veolia can also play the role of coordinator, as building a farming production system in an urban environment involves facilitating all the connections with stakeholders. In short, a new Group business line is beginning to take shape.

What experiments are you working on?

Our aim is to offer local regions farming systems that combine high-quality production with social and environmental benefits. We are thus focusing on high-performance production models that meet this twofold challenge.
To this end, we are concentrating our efforts in two areas. The first concerns the practice of biointensive micro-market gardening*, which uses little machinery but requires a great deal of manual labor and a high level of farming expertise. For this purpose, we have built an experimental farm in Lille’s Marché d’Intérêt National (MIN) market, studying topics such as “how to handle soil fertility and enrichment using the city’s organic waste resources.” The second concerns aquaponics, and in this respect Veolia has invested in BIGH in Brussels, the largest aquaponics farm in Europe (see Futurist). These two projects allow Veolia to acquire the expertise required for deployment. Veolia can suggest one or other of the solutions to regions, or even both combined, in order to build high-performance farming production systems.

You have set up a partnership with ISA Graduate School of Agriculture and Bioengineering in Lille: what benefits does it bring you?

We are convinced that the micro-market gardening model, which allows highly intensive production on a small surface area while delivering a wide range of complementary benefits (hosting biodiversity, carbon storage, soil regeneration, reduction in heat islands, etc.), is extremely pertinent in the urban environment. However, the soil in the spaces available is very often degraded or even polluted. It is thus crucial to be able to recreate soil when it is absent or unusable. To achieve this objective, we have created a research program with ISA Graduate School of Agriculture and Bioengineering in Lille. The challenge is to construct a functional technosol** using recycled organic and mineral resources. Inspiration is taken from the characteristics of fertile natural soil to create an environment conducive to the biological development of microfauna in the soil.

A major project to characterize the components of natural soil began in May 2019, followed by an inventory of all the available sources of mineral and organic materials in an urban area. The definition of the different mineral categories was completed in October. The beds still need to be established in January 2020 to identify the most effective formulation and measure the settlement of organisms in the schemes. The first results are expected before the summer and will be monitored for three years.

Storing carbon and optimising organics yield: the advantages of recovering organic waste
"Urban agriculture: another way to feed cities”: the new Veolia Institute publication and conference


* Growing a wide variety of vegetables on very small surface areas
** Blend of different organic and mineral elements