IT Carlow partnership positively impacts sustainable food security

ReNu2Farm project works to impact food security and sustainability by safeguarding essential soil nutrients.

ReNu2Farm project partners at the Irish project field site at Teagasc Johnstown Castle, Co. Wexford. From left to right: Dr Israel Ikoyi (UL), Ms Lea Deinert (UL), Ms Demi Ryan (IT Carlow) and Ms Anna Karpinska (IT Carlow) Credit: Marcin Kopka

Ensuring food security for the expanding global population has caused intensification of agriculture to industrial scale. This approach, however, has negative consequences on the life sustaining ecosystems in our planet, such as land degradation and soil nutrient loss. It is a necessity therefore in farming to add mineral fertilisers to the soil to replace lost nutrients, ensuring good yields. What most people do not know is that, every time mineral fertilisers are used in our fields in Ireland and in Europe, mountains are demolished in other continents, as is the case, for example, with mineral phosphorous mined in South Africa. Most people are not aware that synthesis of chemical nitrogen fertiliser is very energetically expensive in terms of fossil fuel consumption. These are significant environmental imbalances, not only due to local African (and other) habitat destruction, but also due to the large amounts of energy required to ship the mined phosphorus to Europe and to chemically produce nitrogen fertiliser, with all the associated harmful CO2 emissions.  

An Interreg-NWE part funded project, ReNu2Farm, strives to address exactly this challenge in recent years.  The project is a European partnership of 10 higher education organisations, research institutes and industry, that work to address the global threat posed to industrial agriculture by the vast depletion of the essential soil nutrients nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N, P, K), without which plants cannot survive. 

The future of agriculture – and food security – necessitates nutrient recycling regionally, nationally and on a global scale. ReNu2Farm is a unique project in that it maps regions in North-West Europe with both nutrient shortage and surplus with the aim of exchanging recycled nutrients across the regions and fostering producer-consumer partnerships. The undertaking will help to establish transnational markets, informing national and EU policy and market barrier reduction.  

In Ireland, ReNu2Farm is spearheaded by a collaboration between the Institute of Technology Carlow, University of Limerick (UL), Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) and Teagasc.  In Ireland the project also works in partnership with the farming community via the IFA. The farmers are at the heart of the project, as their wishes and needs have been surveyed by partners in CIT, so that the industrial project partners in Germany and Luxemburg can tailor-make their recycling derived fertiliser (RDF) products according to farmers’ needs. Similar farm surveys have also been carried out in NW Europe by project partners.  

Work at the Institute of Technology Carlow strives to ensure the ecological compatibility and environmental safety of RDF.  The ReNu2Farm Project Manager at the Institute of Technology Carlow, and Director of enviroCORE, the Institute’s centre of research and enterprise providing solutions to environmental challenges, Dr Thomais Kakouli-Duarte says: “The project is in line with the UNESCO Sustainable Development Goals, whose achievement is of vital significance to safeguard our precious planet and its resources for the generations to come. Our work in enviroCORE has provided strong evidence towards the ecological and environmental safety of RDF, while our partners’ work in UL and in NW Europe attest to the agronomical value of RDF comparable to those of conventional non-sustainable fertilisers”. 

More information on ReNu2Farm can be found here