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

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Geography


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.

Planned Impact

This project addresses poverty and development issues, focusing on rural development agendas in the Amazon region and seeks to use untapped natural resources to enable sustainable land management. Utilising biomass energy technologies and added-value products we intend to engage with local communities to develop a model approach which will improve the prosperity and welfare of disadvantaged groups. Our aim is to consider smallholders in off-grid locations challenged by a lack of energy and water services. We have extensive experience in international developmental work and supporting rural communities in poverty alleviation, small-scale energy solutions, nutrient recovery for improved crops and sustainable soil management. We will identify locally-acceptable and environmentally sustainable solutions that will enhance land management of this biodiversity hot spot and lead directly to economic and welfare benefits for individuals and households, promoting economic and social development of the Amazon through recovery of deforested and degraded areas.

Over and above providing a new energy supply options, the outputs of this proposal will: tackle fuel and energy poverty; increase revenue generation to individuals and households; create new opportunities for, and benefits to, rural industries and generate employment and decrease transport costs. This will ultimately lead to better lifestyles; improved socioeconomic status; and through using renewable energy technologies reduce environmental impact and promote natural resource conservation.

A sustainable energy supply will also lead to significant healthcare benefits, for example: clean, domestic water supply reduces medical expenditure; withdrawing household smoke derived from biomass cookstoves through use of biogas avoids respiratory diseases including TB; energy-secure agriculture would ensure lower malnutrition and healthier people (especially benefiting women and children); warm housing stock in winter and cooling in summer will increase well-being particularly amongst the elderly and infirm.

The research will have significant impact on education in rural communities. Training and up-skilling villagers in working with renewable energy sources and providing a basis for encouraging the application of business acumen in terms of enterprise optimisation and the production of value-added commodities will have significant impact on rural communities. The demonstration and development of technologies at field sites in both countries provides and ideal route for achieving this impact.


10 25 50

publication icon
Karatayev M (2016) A review of current energy systems and green energy potential in Kazakhstan in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews

Description The potential of forestry and agricultural wastes for energy production in the Amazon is significant and underdeveloped. Local charcoal production uses primary forest and opportunities to recycle wastes for biochar will benefit both the ecosystem services of the forest and agriculture
Exploitation Route We installed a local demonstration site at a plant nursery for community engagement events which could be used by others. In addition the findings from our work has informed practice elsewhere in the Amazon and particularly in the use of charcoal residues for crop improvement in poor soils in Maranhao Province, which is aligned to the BBSRC NUCLEUS project.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Energy,Environment

Description We are installing biochar making facilities in an Amazonian village community in Para State, Brazil. The impact of this work is directly related to improved livelihood incomes from agricultural production for local villagers
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Energy,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description Joint Network on Sustainable Cities and Urbanisation in India
Amount £193,581 (GBP)
Funding ID ES/P000517/1 
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2016 
End 05/2017
Description Newton CONFAP Centres for Agricultural Nitrogen
Amount £1,089,209 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/N013204/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2016 
End 12/2018
Description Newton Fund RCUK-DIPI-Ristekdikti-MoHE-DOST-TRF Research Partnerships Call
Amount £41,621 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P018513/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2017 
End 12/2018