African farmers prepare to turn waste into sustainable revenue

BIO4Africa has completed a fruitful first year. Bio-based technologies are now ready for testing in circular agri-food systems.

Smallholder farmers in Africa will soon have a valuable use for crop and livestock waste that traditionally is either left to rot or burnt. Innovative bio-based technologies identified through the EU-funded BIO4Africa project are ready for deployment at sites in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Senegal and Uganda, just 12 months since project kick-off.

It means that residues like cassava peel, cashew apples, groundnut shells, coffee husks and animal manure will now be integrated in circular agri-food systems to create alternative sources of income for the farmers, improve food security and reduce vulnerability to climate change.

In a continent where continuous cropping has caused massive nutrient loss in around 25% of productive land, the improvement potential is enormous. Waste decomposition in open dumps is responsible for almost 7% of Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Co-creation is a core driver
Comprising 25 partner organisations from Africa and Europe, the BIO4Africa consortium has investigated farmer needs, evaluated biomass availability and screened bio-based technologies during the project’s first year. Cost-benefit analyses have confirmed the commercial viability of the technologies that have been selected for trial.

At workshops held in each of the four focus countries, local farmers and farmer associations, agri-entrepreneurs, authority representatives and other stakeholders gave the technologies the green light.

“Local participation in co-defining and validating the technologies is a core BIO4Africa driver and will remain essential to the adaptation and implementation of the technologies. We expect more than 300 farmers and farmer groups to test them in real productive conditions at the sites in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Senegal and Uganda.

“It has also given us an idea about how well these bio-based technologies are already known and what we must do to continue raising awareness of their benefits,” explains Jean-Michel Commandre, BIO4Africa project coordinator from Cirad.

First technology installed
At the test site in Uganda, the work to install the first technology – a green biorefinery – is well underway. The biorefinery will turn leaves and other plant residues into concentrated protein cakes or powder for livestock feed. Initial feed trials show the protein cakes can increase the milk yield of dairy cows by 25%.

Together, the selected technologies cover a range of opportunities to turn residues into easily transportable, marketable products. These include the production of feed pellets and densified complete feed blocks for livestock and aquaculture, biomass briquettes for fueling stoves and producing biogas, and biochar for water filtration and soil improvement. Emerging bioplastic and biocomposite technology will be tested at lab scale.

Overcoming barriers
“From our farmer survey, we know that lack of capital will be a major barrier to implementation. For this reason, one of our tasks during the first year of BIO4Africa has been to identify possible funding opportunities to help farming communities get started,” Jean-Michel Commandre says.

“Success will depend on how easily farming communities can take the technology into use and bring these new products to market. These are key focus areas as BIO4Africa moves forward.”

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Photo by Ninno JackJr on Unsplash