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Newton Fund: Novel strategies for the recovery of deforested and degraded landscapes in the Amazon region: sustainable energy-food-water services

Funder: UK Research and InnovationProject code: EP/M029212/1
Funded under: EPSRC Funder Contribution: 49,195 GBP
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Newton Fund: Novel strategies for the recovery of deforested and degraded landscapes in the Amazon region: sustainable energy-food-water services


Enhancing food, fibre and fuel production to meet growing demand while preserving the integrity of natural ecosystems and their capacity to deliver key services, requires the widespread adoption of sustainable land use practices. The Brazilian Amazon comprises one third of the world's tropical forests and sustains 13% of the world's biota but is experiencing extensive deforestation. Around 8% of forests have been converted to other land uses with an unknown area modified by selective logging, edge effects, surface fires, and hunting. Traditional farming involves 'slash-and-burn' cultivation (for rice, cassava, maize and beans) a practice which depletes soils of nutrients so land is abandoned and new areas exploited. Population growth has placed greater demands on soil (via shorter fallow periods) and forest resources encouraging the growth of environmentally unsustainable meat and milk production practices. Planted and abandoned pastures account for 80% of all cleared lands thus there is urgent need to establish sustainable management strategies to protect ecosystem services and arrest the increase in degraded and exploited environments. Issues faced by Amazonian communities are not solely agricultural; water and energy services are virtually non-existent. Although the Amazon region is rich in natural resources, local populations are economically poor. Water is available throughout the year; however, the quantity and quality varies considerably depending on river water levels and in the dry season, family members, primarily women and children, have to walk for hours to fetch water. Communities are typically isolated from the electric grid with a lack of energy services. Bioenergy technologies such as biomass gasification are attractive in this context since they can provide energy services (via syngas for heat, power and electricity) and biochar which is nutrient-rich and can be used to improve soils, enhance crop growth and nurture sustainable agriculture. Biochar improves soil water use efficiency (retaining soil moisture for crop growth) and can be used as a filter to remove pollutants from drinking water. Biochar may also induce systemic defence against crop pathogens and may be of fundamental importance in terms of food production. The focus of this international research partnership is to develop innovative, appropriate, sustainable waste and residue-fuelled energy systems which enhance delivery of food, water and energy services. The environmental benefits of these 'waste to energy' systems (diminished atmospheric pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, nutrient recovery, wastewater cleanup) will be examined to provide coupled energy-environment services which benefit all end-users. If residues can efficiently be converted into syngas this will provide an alternative resource for the replacement of unsustainable fossil fuels. Using our multidisciplinary expertise we will investigate the potential of wastes and residues to develop affordable and sustainable energy-water-soil-crop systems. Recent interest in the potential of regional biomass such as waste timber and acai seeds (Euterpe oleracea) for energy services shows potential but little research has been undertaken to assess the added-value benefits of these energy services within a food-water-energy nexus approach.

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