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Fostering sustainability through organic waste re-use: drivers for adoption and pathways for diffusion in Sub-Saharan Africa

Project Description

Efficient re-use of organic wastes is of critical importance to the productivity of small-holder farm households in many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa (Smith et al., 2015). Organic wastes can provide important and sustainable organic fertilisers that recycle valuable nutrients back to the soil as well as increasing the organic matter content of the soil. This can improve soil structure, nutrient supply and productivity. Organic wastes are also widely used as sources of household fuel, usually by burning (dung or crop residues). Crop residues may also provide an important source of animal feed, while both dung and crop residues are used in building.
Technologies exist that allow more efficient use of organic wastes, so that they can be used to provide multiple functions and foster both sustainable food production and energy provision for smallholders farmers. For example, anaerobic digestion produces a much cleaner source of energy (biogas) than direct burning of organic wastes, while the residue from the process (bioslurry) is an excellent organic fertiliser, high in plant available nitrogen; pyrolysis cookstoves can be used to burn crop residues with much lower emissions of harmful particulates, with direct health benefit, especially for woman and children (see Thakur et al., 2018 for a review), while also producing biochar, which can either be incorporated in the soil as a soil improver, or briquetted to provide additional fuel (Smith et al., 2014).

However, despite the potential benefits of these technologies, adoption is slow. This may be due to
1. Unclear or non-realised benefits;
2. Lack of access to affordable equipment in remote areas;
3. Failures in the market for equipment and communication of benefits to potential users;
4. Preferences and cultural norms.

This project will examine:
1. the benefits of different technologies for more efficient use of organic wastes, producing maps of potential benefits in different areas of Sub-Saharan Africa,
2. the potentials for adoption, benefits and threats across different production systems and dominant value chains.
3. the factors influencing adoption or disadoption of different technologies in different regions of Sub-Saharan Africa,
4. failures in the market and communication of benefits to potential users.

The student will gain training in
1. Systems modelling (using the ORATOR model developed at UA);
2. Geographical information systems, (UA);
3. Statistical analysis in R (UA);
4. High level use of Excel (UA);
5. Programming in Fortran (UA);
6. Socio-economic survey and stated preferences methods (QUB);
7. Economic analysis and value chains in the agri-food sector of Sub-Saharan Africa (QUB)

Funding Notes

This studentship is available to UK and other EU nationals and provides funding for tuition fees and stipend, subject to eligibility.
Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree in a relevant subject.


• Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences
• State name of the lead supervisor as the Name of Proposed Supervisor
• State ‘QUADRAT DTP’ as Intended Source of Funding
• State the exact project title on the application form


Smith et al., 2015. Sustainable use of organic resources for bioenergy, food and water provision in rural Sub-Saharan Africa. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 50: 903-917

Smith et al., 2014. What is the potential for biogas digesters to improve soil fertility and crop production in Sub-Saharan Africa? Biomass & Bioenergy 70: 58-72

Thakur, et al., 2018. Impact of improved cookstoves on woman’s and child health in low and middle income countries: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Torax 75

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