To Build the Circular Bionutrient Economy

Lead Organization:

Cornell University and its off-campus site The Soil Factory (TSF)

Partner Organizations:

The Soil Factory Network (SFN), Poverty and Health Integrated Solutions (PHIS), Maseno University, the county government of Kisumu, Manor House Agricultural Centre (MHAC), Kisumu youth groups Nyalenda Young Turks and United Destiny Shapers, and women groups as well as private sector players

Community of Practice:

East & Southern Africa


Kenya and Tanzania




From household to global scales, linear nutrient flows damage soil health, people, and the environment. At the territorial level, nutrients flow from rural areas to towns and cities, depleting agricultural soils and polluting urban and aquatic environments. While farmers in low- and middle-income countries such as Kenya struggle to maintain soil health, they and their urban counterparts lack effective sanitation and waste management systems.

Population growth and urbanization drive the crisis. Formal waste management and sanitation systems don’t serve the informal settlements in and around urban centers, contributing to declining food security, water pollution, and unhygienic environments. Food security is compromised by soil health deterioration and reduction in crop productivity and also by environmental enteropathy, a gut condition caused when people are exposed to contaminated water and food.

Fecal coliforms that pervade in the absence of sanitation systems dirty the water. Food is toxic when crop plants stressed by poor soil health aren’t able to resist colonization by mycotoxigenic fungi. Conventional sanitation, waste management, and agriculture approaches are associated with high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

The above represents an opportunity to develop a circular bionutrient economy (CBE) at the nexus of agriculture, organic waste management, public health, and environmental integrity. Transforming polluting wastes into soil amendments and animal feeds contributes to the CCRP’s effort toward agroecological transitions that make food systems more sustainable, equitable, and healthy. Agroecological principles related to circularity, recycling, efficiency, synergies, resilience, and co-creation and sharing of knowledge will thus be implemented as will FRN principles, especially those related to equity and networking.

A subset of circular economy (CE), the CBE follows the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping materials in use, and regenerating nature. The CBE will be strengthened through recovery of food waste resources before and after consumption as well as other available and/or troublesome organic resources in the Lake Victoria basin (water weeds, agro-industrial, and/or slaughterhouse byproducts, etc.). Contributions will be made to articulate and test operational and social principles that guide a transition from the current scenario (soil depletion, a taboo around human excreta, and tolerance for waste and pollution) to people regarding waste management as an opportunity to nourish soils and livestock and improve livelihoods.

The overall aim of the SFN is to foment creative interactions related to advancing the circular bionutrient economy (CBE). A key aim of CBE is to enhance the return of carbon and nutrients from organic waste streams to soils. As important as the CBE may be, discussions around wastes can sound grim and gross, and people are generally quite happy to keep wastes out of sight and out of mind.

CBE requires us to change how we feel, not just how we think and act. To change how we see our own bodies within agroecology, and thus what we feel is right about how we handle our bodily byproducts and other organic resources, we need a holistic approach, bringing art, design, innovationm and science together in fun ways to inspire and enable change.

So the SFN takes the discussion of pee and poop to an artistic, fun, relaxed, and convivial space where these earthy topics get socialized, normalized, art-ified, and strategized. We are building a community that is dynamic, inclusive, and self-defining.

Grant Aims:

The overall goal is to contribute to the agroecological transition in the Lake Victoria basin in eastern Africa and beyond by advancing the CBE.

Specifically, the project seeks to:

  1. Provide a strategic framework for the CBE, taking an agroecological, OneHealth perspective; advance through a review paper on the CBE focusing on the Lake Victoria basin.
  2. Inform local work on “facilitated regional industrial symbiosis” by conducting geospatial analysis to assess proximities and possibilities for combining underutilized resources.
  3. Conduct experiments that provide the technical basis for work with human excreta.
  4. Engage with stakeholders in ESAf to bring a global perspective to local CBE innovation in the region; challenge taboos through global solidarity, encouraging people in FRNs and youth groups to see their work on waste recycling as part of a wider movement.

Outputs and Outcomes:

Grant Aim 1


  • A systems analysis and framework for CBE work in the Lake Victoria basin


  • Development of the framework enabling team and others to better understand the system that connects wasted resources with productive uses
  • Publication of a paper drawing on the OneHealth concept
  • Team empowered to tackle key nodes of system to strategically advance broader CBE goal

Grant Aim 2


  • Geospatial analysis


  • Maps clarifying locations of waste sources and potential users
  • Hypotheses about credible ways in which waste flows improved to enhance food production, food security, and water quality
  • Critical analysis of equity impacts of different scenarios: Who will benefit and who will lose from each possible scenario?

Grant Aim 3


  • Experimental findings to support technical innovation for use of excreta to create or improve soils


  • Experimental evidence on raised-bed gardening using low-value organic wastes (cereal residues such straw bales and maize stover, weeds, sawdust, etc.) and urine (Grow As You Go, or YouGo gardens)
  • Data and information related to microbial risk management for raised-bed gardening, including use of compost heat to speed sanitization process
  • Data related to potential risks, such as salt accumulation and pharma, associated with use of urine in agriculture

Grant Aim 4


  • Stakeholder engagement


  • Engagement with Charles Midega and colleagues to support PHIS success in ecosan, black soldier fly larva production, and other aspects of OneHealth and CBE in Kisumu
  • Engagement with FRNs and Manor House to apply ecosan on regional basis
  • Engagement at global level with artists and others to normalize excreta recycling