In 1983, Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem and a team from the Laboratory of Plant Morphology, Systematics and Ecology at the University of Ghent (Belgium) started a research program to grow plants in the Sahel region in Africa using less water. In a first phase they developed a screening method to study the influence of a wide variety of materials (cocoa husks, compost, hydroabsorbent polymers, peat, vermiculite, zeolite, coir fibre, inorganic and organic fertilizers, etc...) on plant growth, singularly and in combinations. The team from Ghent found that by mixing certain hydroabsorbent, nutritive and root growth stimulating components together, that a superior soil conditioning compound was attained which produced dramatic and swift results. The Laboratory Plant Morphology, Systematics and Ecology was able to conclusively demonstrate that certain materials complement each other in a synergetic manner and provide soil conditioning benefits whose collective effect is better than the effect of their individual parts. The research effort led by Prof. W. Van Cotthem resulted in the TerraCottem soil conditioner, a mixture of more than twenty components that work in synergy to improve growing conditions and plant growth.
Ten years of testing, both in the laboratory and in the field, were completed before the soil conditioning technology was made available commercially on an international scale.