College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Mr Simon Gwara presented at the National Water and Sanitation Summit.

Research on Nutrient Reuse and Recovery Presented at Water and Sanitation Summit

Research emanating from the international Rural-Urban Nexus: Establishing a Nutrient Loop to Improve City Region Food System Resilience (RUNRES) project co-led by UKZN was presented at the National Water and Sanitation Summit in Johannesburg.

Delegates included the Ministers of Basic Education, Water and Sanitation, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, and Mineral Resources.

Also, in attendance were Water Research Commission executives, the Premier of Gauteng, Her Majesty Nkosikazi Nomandla Dorothy Mhla, Chairperson of the National House of Traditional and Khoi-San leaders, directors of the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) and various water and sanitation experts and stakeholders.

The two-day event aimed to develop sustainable solutions for the provision of water security and dignified sanitation in South Africa.

PhD candidate in UKZN’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences Mr Simon Gwara presented a case study on Msunduzi Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal that focused on the establishment of a circular economy. He attended on behalf of RUNRES’ Principal Investigator for South Africa, Dr Alfred Odindo of UKZN’s Discipline of Crop Science, who is also a member of the National Sanitation Task Team (NSTT) which provides technical expertise and policy advice to the DWS.

In a session on the integrated sanitation plan chaired by Minister of Basic Education, Honourable Angie Motshekga, Gwara showcased the RUNRES project’s activities to explore opportunities for the recovery and reuse of nutrients from sanitation facilities for application in agriculture.

The RUNRES project aims to establish a circular economy for resilient city region food systems in South Africa, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda. It is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation’s Global Programme Food Security, and led by Professor Johan Six of ETH Zürich together with UKZN, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Bukavu in the DRC and Kigali in Rwanda, and Ethiopia’s Arba Minch University.

The project team in South Africa includes researchers from UKZN’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Research and Development (WASH R&D) Centre, the Discipline of Development Studies and the African Cities of the Future Research Flagship, as well as representatives from Msunduzi Municipality.

The RUNRES team is establishing solutions-oriented and transdisciplinary innovation platforms with collaborators from academia, the private sector, government, and local communities.

This work demonstrates that innovations for value chain development and waste recycling can catalyse a flow of resources throughout the rural-urban nexus to improve the resilience of regional food systems. It also creates a platform for collaborative, specialist studies in various disciplines.

Work in Msunduzi Municipality has included exploring innovative waste management methods to assist communities in peri-urban communities with aging Ventilated Improved Pit latrines that were not being emptied, and applying WASH R&D work on integrated sanitation technologies for the recovery of nutrients from effluents for processing into agricultural fertilisers.

Gwara – whose PhD in agricultural economics is under examination and involved an investigation of the social acceptability, market feasibility and sustainability of human excreta reuse in agri-?food value chains – said positive feedback was received from the delegates which reinforced the quality of the research underway on recovery and reuse activities in KwaZulu-Natal.

Also, in attendance was Professor Maxwell Mudhara of Agricultural Economics at UKZN, a panel expert in a session addressing the financial sustainability of the water and sanitation sector, and former eThekwini Municipal Manager, Mr Neil McLeod of the WASH R&D Centre.

Commissions developed an action plan with specific deliverables and timelines that were shared with all delegates to contribute to achieving the summit’s objective.

Following the summit, Gwara and Odindo joined the NSTT to reflect on the outcomes and provide further input on the draft National Sanitation Framework for submission to Cabinet, which includes a sector implementation plan.

RUNRES contributions to the NSTT include input into the 10-year National Faecal Sludge Management Strategy for onsite sanitation; the project has hosted site visits from the DWS and consultative meetings involving all RUNRES stakeholders. Its stakeholders are piloting the co-composting of faecal sludge, wastewater treatment sludge and green waste, which to date has diverted more than 7 000 tons of green waste from Pietermaritzburg’s New England Landfill Site and 1 500 tons of sludge.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied