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Division of Food Production and Society

FoodsecURe: Food security through better sanitation: the case of urine recycling

Active Last updated: 05.12.2023
End: jun 2027
Start: jul 2023

Human urine contains essential nutrients (e.g., nitrogen and phosphorus) required for plant growth. Hence, urine can serve as a “free” and locally available nutrient source. Successful, low-cost urine-diverting toilets (UDTs) that separately collect urine have been developed in Scandinavia and in Europe and are being manufactured at large scale in Africa. 

But why can't we recycle urine at scale?

Status Active
Start - end date 01.07.2023 - 30.06.2027
Project manager Divina Gracia P. Rodriguez
Division Division of Food Production and Society
Department Economics and Society
Partners The FoodSecURe team is composed of partners from NIBIO, NMBU, SLU, NorgesVel, Bahir-Dar University (BDU), and Amhara Regional Agricultural Research Institute. BDU office of the Healthy Food Africa project, Bahir Dar City Water Supply and Sewerage Authority, and the Bureau of Water and Energy are key stakeholders and members of the Advisory Committee of the project from the Ethiopian side. 
Total budget 10770000
Funding source Research Council of Norway

There exist many barriers to urine recycling at scale. There are technological barriers because it is not viable to collect, store, transport, and apply liquid urine as fertilizer. There is a potential human health and safety barrier, as farmers and consumers may have concerns with possible communicable pathogens or micropollutants present in urine. There are also socio-cultural barriers to accepting urine recycling because of limited understanding of the market, farmers’ requirements, and decision-making processes underlying the use of UBFs; prevailing traditional practices and taboos surrounding human excreta; and limited insights into stakeholders’ willingness to engage in new sanitation systems. Stakeholders also have concerns with the environmental risks of urine recycling associated with pharmaceutical residues and micropollutants in urine (and therefore in UBFs). There are institutional barriers because implementation and scaling-up of sanitation systems that make productive use of human wastes in agriculture are inhibited by weak, non-existent, and sometimes prohibiting legislation. Economic barriers to urine recycling are also present. People and businesses are unwilling to make new investments in equipment and know-how, as adoption could entail high switching costs.

The overall objective of the FoodsecURe project is to improve productivity, livelihood, and adaptive capacity of smallholder agriculture to changing climate and socio-economic conditions in Ethiopia by mainstreaming a safe sanitation value chain surrounding the collection, safe treatment, transportation, and application of UBFs. 

Specifically, the project will:

1. Develop, implement, and field-test communal scale collection and safe conversion of human urine to produce solid UBFs;

2. Safely process and apply solid UBFs on smallholder farms growing local crops, with a focus on crop quality and fate nutrients, heavy metals, pathogens and micropollutants;

3. Analyse the willingness and behavioral intentions of stakeholders, cultural taboos and phobia, technological diffusion, and environmental performance of urine recycling;

4. Develop new sustainable business models and value chains for mainstreaming communal-scale urine recycling; and

5. Strengthen science-policy-stakeholder linkages.

FoodSecURe will be implemented and utilize the existing UDTs in communal public areas in Bahir-Dar, Ethiopia. Due to a lack of technology and limited awareness of users, government, and institutions, these UDTs were misused, and no UBF has been produced from the UDTs. The various tasks are implemented through a multi-disciplinary and multi-actor approach by scientists specializing in social sciences, business management, agronomy, parasitology, environmental engineering, environmental science, and soil science.

Email: foodsecure@nibio.no

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A photo of the FoodsecURe researchers at the kick-off meeting held in Sweden this autumn. Project leader and NIBIO researcher Divina Gracia P. Rodriguez is seated in the center of the front row. Photo: FoodsecURe