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International Centre for Sustainable Development (IZNE)

Soils and Biomass

Soils and biomass are inseparably connected with each other via a multitude of material cycles.

The loss of fertile soils and thus also of ecologically diverse terrestrial ecosystems worldwide is dramatic. According to UN estimates, around ten million hectares of usable land are lost every year. 3.6 billion (109) hectares have already been affected by desertification, an area larger than Africa. Loss of livelihood threatens one billion people ( The United Nations' Agenda 2030 defines with the SDG 15 a sustainable development goal that also covers soils and biomass: "Protect, restore and promote the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss". Other SDGs such as SDG 2 "Zero Hunger" or SDG 13 "Climate Action" are directly or indirectly linked to soils and biomass.

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IZNE initiates and coordinates several research projects connected to the above topics, which protect soil as a finite resource, applying a holistic approach. Recognized experts agree that especially knowledge transfer and application-oriented research are of central importance to achieve the ambitious UN-SDGs ("I think it's one of the big questions in soil science: why is our knowledge still not applied enough?" Prof. Dr. Johan Bouma 2018, WUR). A consistent policy of involvement of practitioners as partners as well as social interest groups underline the application-oriented nature of IZNE projects.

Research and Development

The preservation of soil fertility is of paramount importance for the supply of food and biomass to a steadily growing world population. Nitrogen and carbon cycles, especially in agro-ecosystems, play a central role in this context. Using on-site produced farm fertilizers based on fast growing raw materials, such as Miscanthus, N-losses can be minimized and the fertility of the soil improved by a positive humus balance (Link to the project "Food Pro.tec.ts Biomasse"). In addition to the farm level approach, a look beyond the system boundaries is an important element in the assessment of anthropogenic factors influencing ecosystem interactions. Within the framework of a One-Health-Strategy, the interactions between relevant soil functions (as a component of the local environment) and animal and human health are being studied (Link to the project "One health"). However, the implementation of resource-saving concepts can only succeed if there is a growing social awareness to protect finite resources. So actively involving people in research projects, e.g. through participatory "Citizen Science" formats, can give an important impetus for the acceptance and implementation of new strategies (Link to "Campus to world").

In particular, the new bio-economy strategy of the European Union opens up new paths for the interaction between soils and biomass ("Soils are a fundamental factor in the transition towards a sustainable bioeconomy as society depends on fertile lands ..."). Alongside the material and energetic use of biomass, food security is one of the most pressing issues for future generations. Supplying the population with high-quality proteins from different sources is of central importance. Established animal food production methods are requiring a re-evaluation with regard to ethical (e.g. animal welfare) and ecological (e.g. nitrate surplus) issues (Link to the project "Roiporq"). Moreover, new protein sources, e.g. from insect production, using significantly smaller amounts of natural resources, are only one component of future food production (Link to the project "Procinut").


Networking and transfer

Close cooperation with strong regional (University of Bonn and UN University), European (e.g. Wageningen University & Research, Netherlands) and international (e.g. Sichuan Agricultural University, China) research partners in the above field is essential for the development and implementation of new concepts and products. Interaction with the relevant practitioner target groups is ensured by our research projects and an active participation in national and international networks. The cross-border network GIQS, for instance, focuses on transdisciplinary research projects with partners from agricultural and food industry including strong economic participation. Also, working together in the international One-Health network connects medical and veterinary doctors with environmental sciences, building an effective platform for interdisciplinary research.