School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

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Swiss Funding for UKZN Researchers to Improve Food System Resilience

Dr Alfred Odindo of UKZN’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Science (SAEES) and Professor Chris Buckley of the Pollution Research Group (PRG) were in Kenya recently to meet with project partners to plan the implementation of a new international research project: The Rural-Urban Nexus: Establishing a Nutrient Loop to Improve City Region Food System Resilience (RUNRES).

This project, housed in the Discipline of Crop Science where Odindo is the project’s Principal Investigator for South Africa, is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation’s (SDC) Global Programme Food Security. It was selected from among 96 proposals to receive the eight-year project grant.

The SDC cited the project’s innovation of the circular use of nutrients and the large partnership team reaching across the African continent as impressive.

The project includes a number of rural-urban regions in Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and South Africa, and is led by Professor Johan Sixfrom the Sustainable Agroecosystems Group at ETH Zürich, together with UKZN, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture(IITA) in Bukavu in the DRC and Kigali in Rwanda, and Arba MinchUniversity in Ethiopia.

The project will establish in each rural-urban region solutions-oriented and transdisciplinary innovation platforms with collaborators from academia, the private sector, government, and local communities to demonstrate that innovations for value chain development and waste recycling can serve as a catalyst to generate a flow of resources between the rural-urban nexus that will improve the resilience of regional food systems. In addition, the project will create a platform for specialist studies in a range of disciplines, inviting collaboration between academia, private sector, government, and local communities.

About R60 million has been set aside for funding partners to implement phase one of the project from 2019-2022.

Meetings in Kenya included discussions on the project background and objectives, the application of innovation platforms in agricultural research for development, and the establishment of a governance structure and Steering Committee comprising ETH Zürich, SDC representatives and Principal Investigators/Project Managers from the partner countries.

‘The wide geographic range of partners opens up possibilities for UKZN to be very active in Africa and work with local communities in seeking solutions to the challenges of sanitation and agriculture in areas where they reside,’ said Buckley.

Ideas for this project were sparked in part when in 2017, community members from the Blessed Agricultural Co-operative in Vulindlela peri-urban settlement near Howick within the Msunduzi Municipality approached Odindo for assistance in addressing challenges of waste disposal, since their 10-year-old Ventilated Improved Pit (VIP) latrines were full and the municipality had no plans to empty them.

The communities were keen to investigate a machine that could enable emptying of the pits and processing of the contents into fertiliser for use or sale. Odindo suggested an alternative approach involving engagement with relevant stakeholders and established a partnership with the co-operative.

This project will apply Buckley’s work on the integration of innovative sanitation technologies that allow for the recovery of nutrients, linking this to agriculture, a focus of Odindo’s research, to attempt to achieve safe sanitation, improved nutrition for mostly poor city dwellers and rural smallholder farmers, as well as environmental protection.

This work meets many objectives of the UKZN African Cities of the Future Research Flagship by bringing together researchers across disciplines to collaborate with municipalities, provincial and national governments to find sustainable solutions and influence improvements in policy, planning, implementation, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied by Alfred Odindo