Project

RePhoKUs - The role of Phosphorus in the Resilience and Sustainability of the UK food system

Goal: In this project, an interdisciplinary research team covering the biological, environmental and socio-economic sciences aims to quantify the vulnerability of UK agriculture and the UK food system to a future P scarcity and assess the thresholds at which P scarcity might impact on agricultural production at farm, catchment and national scale. The work programme will develop and prioritise the adaptations that might overcome this vulnerability; for example through technological innovations to improve P use efficiency and reuse of secondary sources of P and the necessary institutional infrastructure to support these.

http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/rephokus/

Date: 1 March 2018

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Project log

Christopher Lyon
added 2 research items
Food system resilience has multiple dimensions. We draw on food system and resilience concepts and review resilience framings of different communities. We present four questions to frame food system resilience (Resilience of what? Resilience to what? Resilience from whose perspective? Resilience for how long?) and three approaches to enhancing resilience (robustness, recovery, and reorientation—the three “Rs”). We focus on enhancing resilience of food system outcomes and argue this will require food system actors adapting their activities, noting that activities do not change spontaneously but in response to a change in drivers: an opportunity or a threat. However, operationalizing resilience enhancement involves normative choices and will result in decisions having to be negotiated about trade-offs among food system outcomes for different stakeholders. New approaches to including different food system actors’ perceptions and goals are needed to build food systems that are better positioned to address challenges of the future. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Volume 47 is October 2022. Please see http://www.annualreviews.org/page/journal/pubdates for revised estimates.
Food system resilience has multiple dimensions. We draw on food system and resilience concepts and review resilience framings of different communities. We present four questions to frame food system resilience (Resilience of what? Resilience to what? Resilience from whose perspective? Resilience for how long?) and three approaches to enhancing resilience (robustness, recovery, and reorientation—the three “Rs”). We focus on enhancing resilience of food system outcomes and argue this will require food system actors adapting their activities, noting that activities do not change spontaneously but in response to a change in drivers: an opportunity or a threat. However, operationalizing resilience enhancement involves normative choices and will result in decisions having to be negotiated about trade-offs among food system outcomes for different stakeholders. New approaches to including different food system actors’ perceptions and goals are needed to build food systems that are better positioned to address challenges of the future.
Christopher Lyon
added a research item
Phosphorus (P) is a critical natural resource for food production, but one that is subject to global supply vulnerabilities. P is also responsible for endemic eutrophication in waterbodies due to poor stewardship in the food chain. Catchments are natural social-ecologically bounded systems for P use in agriculture and water management. Stakeholders, such as farmers, water and sewerage service companies, local authorities, and environmental organisations mediate catchment adaptive capacity to P supply risks and P pollution in waterbodies. Adaptive capacity at this level has been insufficiently explored in addressing the P challenge, yet is essential to it. We address this gap by exploring through a qualitative study of stakeholders in two United Kingdom catchments. Our results suggest that the awareness and relevance of P-supply challenges is low in catchments, but the problem of waterbody vulnerability to excess P is of greater concern. Our findings highlight the roles in adaptive capacity of entrenched practices; knowledge and training activities and organisations; stakeholder cooperation and synergy; funding, infrastructure, and technology; the governance environment; and time needed to draw down P. We find that farmers and water companies are especially important to adaptive capacity as they directly interact with P flows. We therefore suggest that catchment adaptive capacity would be significantly improved through a well-supported, and expanded package of existing efforts such as providing scientific evidence of catchment P dynamics; training; payments; more empowered local governance. This effort would support catchment stakeholders to adopt effective P-stewardship practices within a multi-decade integrated catchment management strategy.
Shane A Rothwell
added a research item
The UK food system is reliant on imported phosphorus (P) to meet food production demand, though inefficient use and poor stewardship means P is currently accumulating in agricultural soils, wasted or lost with detrimental impacts on aquatic environments. This study presents the results of a detailed P Substance Flow Analysis for the UK food system in 2018, developed in collaboration with industry and government, with the key objective of highlighting priority areas for system interventions to improve the sustainability and resilience of P use in the UK food system. In 2018 the UK food system imported 174.6 Gg P, producing food and exportable commodities containing 74.3 Gg P, a P efficiency of only 43%. Three key system hotspots for P inefficiency were identified: Agricultural soil surplus and accumulation (89.2 Gg P), loss to aquatic environments (26.2 Gg P), and waste disposal to landfill and construction (21.8 Gg P). Greatest soil P accumulation occurred in grassland agriculture (85% of total accumulation), driven by loadings of livestock manures. Waste water treatment (12.5 Gg P) and agriculture (8.38 Gg P) account for most P lost to water, and incineration ashes from food system waste (20.3 Gg P) accounted for nearly all P lost to landfill and construction. New strategies and policy to improve the handling and recovery of P from manures, biosolids and food system waste are therefore necessary to improve system P efficiency and reduce P accumulation and losses, though critically, only if they effectively replace imported mineral P fertilisers.
Shane A Rothwell
added a research item
The “circular economy” is an increasingly influential concept linking economic and environmental policy to enable sustainable use of resources. A crucial although often overlooked element of this concept is a circular nutrient economy, which is an economy that achieves the minimization of nutrient losses during the production, processing, distribution, and consumption of food and other products, as well as the comprehensive recovery of nutrients from organic residuals at each of these stages for reuse in agricultural production. There are multiple interconnecting barriers to transitioning from the current linear economic system to a more circular one, requiring strongly directional government policy. This paper uses interpretive policy analysis to review six UK government strategies to assess their strengths and weaknesses in embracing nutrient circularisation. Our analysis highlights the acute underrepresentation of the circular nutrient economy concept in these strategies as well as the potential to reorient the current policy towards its development. We find significant barriers to transition presented by ambiguity in key policy terms and proposals, the use of inappropriate indicators, the lack of a systematic approach to key sustainability objectives, and the presence of a “techno-optimist imaginary” throughout the strategies. We develop these findings to make recommendations to help integrate definitions, objectives, and activities across the policy domains necessary for the operational development of a circular nutrient economy.
Julia Martin-Ortega
added a research item
Food systems worldwide are vulnerable to Phosphorus (P) supply disruptions and price fluctuations. Current P use is also highly inefficient, generating large surpluses and pollution. Global food security and aquatic ecosystems are in jeopardy if transformative action is not taken. This paper pivots from earlier (predominantly conceptual) work to develop and analyse a P transdisciplinary scenario process, assessing stakeholders potential for transformative thinking in P use in the food system. Northern Ireland, a highly livestock-intensive system, was used as case study for illustrating such process. The stakeholder engagement takes a normative stance in that it sets the explicit premise that the food system needs to be transformed and asks stakeholders to engage in a dialogue on how that transformation can be achieved. A Substance Flow Analysis of P flows and stocks was employed to construct visions for alternative futures and stimulate stakeholder discussions on system responses. These were analysed for their transformative potential using a triple-loop social learning framework. For the most part, stakeholder responses remained transitional or incremental, rather than being fundamentally transformative. The process did unveil some deeper levers that could be acted upon to move the system further along the spectrum of transformational change (e.g. changes in food markets, creation of new P markets, destocking, new types of land production and radical land use changes), providing clues of what an aspirational system could look like. Replicated and adapted elsewhere, this process can serve as diagnostics of current stakeholders thinking and potential, as well as for the identification of those deeper levers, opening up avenues to work upon for global scale transformation.
Julia Martin-Ortega
added a research item
This report evaluates two funded soil sampling and training schemes for farmers carried out in Northern Ireland: the EU Exceptional Adjustment Aid (EAA) Soil Sampling and Analysis Scheme (EU EAA SSAS), which ran during 2017-18 and included a nation-wide pilot and a targeted scheme in the Upper Bann catchment; and the DAERA-funded Colebrooke and Strule Soil Testing and Training Initiative (CSSTTI), which ran during 2018-19. This report focuses specifically on: 1) Whether participating in the schemes has influenced farmers’ understanding of the link between soil management practices, production and water pollution; 2) Whether the schemes have resulted in positive behavioural intentions or behavioural changes in relation to slurry, fertiliser and lime applications; and 3) What are the drivers of and barriers to take up soil test recommendations.
Shane A Rothwell
added a research item
Current use and management of phosphorus (P) in our food systems is considered unsustainable and considerable improvements in the efficiency of P use are required to mitigate the environmental impact of poor P stewardship. The inherent low P use efficiency of food production from animals means food systems dominated by livestock agriculture can pose unique challenges for improving P management. This paper presents the results of a substance flow analysis for P in the Northern Ireland (NI) food system for the year 2017 as a case study for examining P stewardship in a livestock dominated agricultural system. Imported livestock feed was by far the largest flow of P into the NI food system in 2017 (11,700 t ± 1300 t) and P from livestock excreta the largest internal flow of P (20,400 ± 1900t). The P contained in livestock slurries and manures alone that were returned to agricultural land exceeded total crop and grass P requirement by 20% and were the largest contributor to an annual excess soil P accumulation of 8.5 ± 1.4 kg ha⁻¹. This current livestock driven P surplus also limits the opportunities for P circularity and reuse from other sectors within the food system, e.g. wastewater biosolids and products from food processing waste. Management of livestock P demand (livestock numbers, feed P content) or technological advancements that facilitate the processing and subsequent export of slurries and manures are therefore needed.
Christopher Lyon
added a research item
Global food production and current reliance on meat-based diets requires a large share of natural resource use and causes widespread environmental pollution including phosphorus (P). Transitions to less animal-intensive diets address a suite of sustainability goals, but their impact on society’s wastewater P burden is unclear. Using the UK as our example, we explored historical diet changes between 1942 and 2016, and how shifting towards plant-based diets might impact the P burden entering wastewater treatment works (WWTW), and subsequent effluent P discharge to receiving water bodies. Average daily per capita P intake declined from its peak in 1963 (1599 mg P pp ⁻¹ d ⁻¹ ) to 1354 mg P pp ⁻¹ d ⁻¹ in 2016. Since 1942, the contribution of processed foods to total P consumption has increased from 21% to 52% in 2016, but consumption of total animal products has not changed significantly. Scenario analysis indicated that if individuals adopted a vegan diet or a low-meat (‘EAT- Lancet’) diet by 2050, the P burden entering WWTW increased by 17% and 35%, respectively relative to baseline conditions in 2050. A much lower P burden increase (6%) was obtained with a flexitarian diet. An increasing burden of P to WWTW threatens greater non-compliance with regulatory targets for P discharge to water, but also presents an opportunity to the wastewater industry to recycle P in the food chain, and reduce reliance on finite phosphate rock resources. Sustainable diets that reduce food system P demand pre-consumption could also provide a source of renewable fertilizers through enhanced P recovery post-consumption and should be further explored.
Julia Martin-Ortega
added a research item
Environmental policies in the realm of land management are increasingly focussing on inducing behavioural change to improve environmental management outcomes. This is based, implicitly or explicitly, on theories that suggest that pro-environmental behaviour can be understood, predicted and altered based on certain factors (referred to as determinants of pro-environmental behaviour). However, studies examining the determinants of pro-environmental behaviour have found mixed evidence. It is therefore important that we revisit these theories to assess if the evidence supports their postulations so that a more robust knowledge base can be established to inform land management policies. In this study, we do this using meta-analytic structural equation modelling (MASEM) to explore whether the evidence on determinants of pro-environmental behaviour supports the postulations of some predominantly applied theories of behaviour and/or behaviour change. The study analyses research in four environmental policy areas to identify implications for land management. Evidence from these related environmental areas is expected to provide insights relevant to the land management literature and to allow us to identify the extent to which lessons on pro-environmental behaviour from these other areas can be transferred to the land management context. Our findings suggest a strong evidence base for the Theories of Planned Behaviour and Reasoned Action, Attitude-Behaviour-Context Model, and the Persuasion Theory, but a weak evidence base for the Value-Belief-Norm Theory and the Norm Activation Model. We also found that type of environmental policy area moderates the relationship between different variables. This has key policy implications since, while lessons can be learnt from other environmental policy areas, land management policies aimed at influencing behaviours will need to be tailored to the specific context rather than simply ‘imported’ from other fields. Such context-specific policies may encourage pro-environmental behaviours, and potentially contribute towards improving environmental management outcomes.
Christopher Lyon
added an update
We've produced a short Youtube film explaining the Rephokus project and the phosphorus challenge. Please share: https://youtu.be/8Ia_KKj-UN0
 
Christopher Lyon
added 2 research items
Phosphorus recovery is as important for closing the phosphorus cycle as its discovery 350 years ago was for food production. A new analysis highlights costs and benefits of creating value from the wastes generated by our food systems and modern lifestyles.
We explore a novel means of understanding the roles of stakeholders in sustainability transformations. Conventional readings of stakeholders may not reflect the complexity of social-ecological systems otherwise acknowledged in sustainability science and leave it difficult to read the roles they play in transformations. Our approach attempts to remedy this gap based on qualitative readings of five pillars: stakeholder agency, system roles, power and influence, moral and ethical alignment to the problem, and transformational potential. We propose that our approach is amenable to case studies of individual stakeholders, studies of multiple stakeholders with links to a clear environmental problem, and gamification. We support our argument with examples from the problem of phosphorus (P) and food system sustainability. Phosphorus, essential to food production, is also a major pollutant in waterbodies due to inefficient use in agri-food systems, and vulnerable to supply and price shocks. Transforming the supply, use, and management of P necessarily involves many local to global stakeholders, making it an ideal case for showcasing our five pillars. We thereby provide a means for a fine-grained analysis of stakeholders for sustainability transformations that can work with different levels of researcher access, making it suitable for in-depth case studies using primary data, research drawing on secondary data, and gamification.
Christopher Lyon
added a research item
One of the greatest challenges humanity faces is feeding the world’s human population in a sustainable, nu- tritious, equitable and ethical way under a changing climate. Urgent transformations are needed that allow farmers to adapt and develop while also being climate resilient and contributing minimal emissions. This paper identifies several illustrative adaptation and development pathways, recognising the variety of starting points of different types of farmers and the ways their activities intersect with global trends, such as population growth, climate change, rapid urbanisation dietary changes, competing land uses and the emergence of new technolo- gies. The feasibility of some pathways depends on factors such as farm size and land consolidation. For other pathways, particular infrastructure, technology, access to credit and market access or collective action are re- quired. The most viable pathway for some farmers may be to exit agriculture altogether, which itself requires careful management and planning. While technology offers hope and opportunity, as a disruptor, it also risks maladaptations and can create tradeoffs and exacerbate inequalities, especially in the context of an uncertain future. For both the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2015 Paris Agreement to be achieved, a mix of levers that combine policy, technology, education and awareness-raising, dietary shifts and financial/economic mechanisms is required, attending to multiple time dimensions, to assist farmers along different pathways. Vulnerable groups such as women and the youth must not be left behind. Overall, strong good governance is needed at multiple levels, combining top-down and bottom-up processes.
Christopher Lyon
added an update
We're pleased to say that we've recently published two open access project journal articles - please see the resources on this page for details!
 
Christopher Lyon
added a research item
The chaotic distribution and dispersal of phosphorus (P) used in food systems (defined here as disorderly disruptions to the P cycle) is harming our environment beyond acceptable limits. An analysis of P stores and flows across Europe in 2005 showed that high fertiliser P inputs relative to productive outputs was driving low system P efficiency (38 % overall). Regional P imbalance (P surplus) and system P losses were highly correlated to total system P inputs and animal densities, causing unnecessary P accumulation in soils and rivers. Reducing regional P surpluses to zero increased system P efficiency (+ 16 %) and decreased total P losses by 35 %, but required a reduction in system P inputs of ca. 40 %, largely as fertiliser. We discuss transdisciplinary and transformative solutions that tackle the P chaos by collective stakeholder actions across the entire food value chain. Lowering system P demand and better regional governance of P resources appear necessary for more efficient and sustainable food systems.
Christopher Lyon
added a research item
One of the greatest challenges humanity faces is feeding the world’s human population in a sustainable, nutritious, equitable and ethical way under a changing climate. Urgent transformations are needed that allow farmers to adapt and develop while also being climate resilient and contributing minimal emissions. This paper identifies several illustrative adaptation and development pathways, recognising the variety of starting points of different types of farmers and the ways their activities intersect with global trends, such as population growth, climate change, rapid urbanisation dietary changes, competing land uses and the emergence of new technologies. The feasibility of some pathways depends on factors such as farm size and land consolidation. For other pathways, particular infrastructure, technology, access to credit and market access or collective action are required. The most viable pathway for some farmers may be to exit agriculture altogether, which itself requires careful management and planning. While technology offers hope and opportunity, as a disruptor, it also risks maladaptations and can create trade-offs and exacerbate inequalities, especially in the context of an uncertain future. For both the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2015 Paris Agreement to be achieved, a mix of levers that combine policy, technology, education and awareness-raising, dietary shifts and financial/economic mechanisms is required, attending to multiple time dimensions, to assist farmers along different pathways. Vulnerable groups such as women and the youth must not be left behind. Overall, strong good governance is needed at multiple levels, combining top-down and bottom-up processes.
Christopher Lyon
added an update
Welcome Murat Okumah to the research team!
 
Christopher Lyon
added an update
Welcome Dr Rachel Marshall Marshall to the Rephokus project team!
 
Christopher Lyon
added an update
See the article in the Institute for Sustainable Futures newsletter covering Christopher Lyon's recent visit with Dana Cordell and Brent Charles Jacobs where they developed the stakeholder mapping and engagement strategy for RePhoKUS! https://www.uts.edu.au/research-and-teaching/our-research/institute-sustainable-futures/news/what-does-dd-have-do?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=the_wrap_july_2018&utm_content=assessing-influence
 
Christopher Lyon
added an update
Pleased to announce that the RePhoKUs Twitter is now active! Follow https://twitter.com/RePhoKUs or @RePhoKUs
 
Private Profile
added an update
The notion of a phosphorus (P) circular economy provides the philosophy, framework, and opportunity to enable food production systems to become more efficient, sustainable, and resilient to a future P scarcity or sudden price shock. Whilst P recovery and recycling are central strategies for closing the P cycle, additional gains in environmental performance of food systems can be obtained by further minimising the amounts of P (a) introduced into the food system by lowering system P demand and (b) lost from the system by utilising legacy P stores in the landscape. In this paper, Professor Paul Withers, Dr Donnacha Doody and Professor Roger Sylvester-Bradley present arguments supporting the need for a greater focus on P minimisation and circularisation, which in return should catalyse different actors and sectors in the food chain to embrace P sustainability and empower future research needs to provide the confidence for them to do so without sacrificing future regional food security.
Withers et al., Sustainability 2018, 10, 1804; doi:10.3390/su10061804
 
Julia Martin-Ortega
added an update
Click here to find out about the RePhoKUs project: http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/rephokus/
 
Private Profile
added an update
We are very happy to announce that Dr Christopher Lyon will join our research team as a Research Fellow on Adaptive Capacity and Resilience. Chris will be based at the University of Leeds and will lead the collaborative assessment of stakeholder adaptive capacity within case study catchments and the co-design of key adaptive strategies to improve resilience to phosphorus scarcity and pollution in the UK.
 
Julia Martin-Ortega
added an update
Would you like to be part of this exciting new research project contributing to ensure greater resilience of the UK's food supply? Do you want to further your career in one of the UK’s leading research intensive Universities? You will join this interdisciplinary team to lead the collaborative assessment of stakeholder adaptive capacity within case study catchments and the co-design of key adaptive strategies to improve resilience to phosphorus scarcity and pollution. The project has been designed so that it has a strong practical component in interaction with stakeholders across the whole food supply chain, as well as cutting-edge theoretical aspirations for the advancement of resilience and sustainability science. While the project will take place in the UK, the project team is international and you will work closely with social sustainability researchers at our Australian partner institution, the Institute for Sustainable Futures(ISF) at the University of Technology Sydney (co-founders of the Global Phosphorus Research Initiative).  3 years, starting January 2018. Based in University of Leeds. Application deadline: 5th of January. See more at: http://www.jobs.ac.uk/job/BFT121/postdoctoral-research-fellow-on-adaptive-capacity-and-resilience/
 
Julia Martin-Ortega
added an update
Two more postdoc positions now available for this project. These two have a natural science base and are focused on Phosphorous Accounting and Phosphorous Buffering.
Based in Bangor University but interacting with all project partners in the UK and Australia as well as stakeholders along the food value chain in the UK.
 
Julia Martin-Ortega
added an update
Would you like to be part of this exciting new research project contributing to ensure greater resilience of the UK's food supply? Do you want to further your career in one of the UK’s leading research intensive Universities?
You will join this interdisciplinary team to lead the collaborative assessment of stakeholder adaptive capacity within case study catchments and the co-design of key adaptive strategies to improve resilience to phosphorus scarcity and pollution. The project has been designed so that it has a strong practical component in interaction with stakeholders across the whole food supply chain, as well as cutting-edge theoretical aspirations for the advancement of resilience and sustainability science. While the project will take place in the UK, the project team is international and you will work closely with social sustainability researchers at our Australian partner institution, the Institute for Sustainable Futures(ISF) at the University of Technology Sydney (co-founders of the Global Phosphorus Research Initiative). 
3 years, starting January 2018. Based in University of Leeds. Application deadline: 5th of January.
 
Private Profile
added a project goal
In this project, an interdisciplinary research team covering the biological, environmental and socio-economic sciences aims to quantify the vulnerability of UK agriculture and the UK food system to a future P scarcity and assess the thresholds at which P scarcity might impact on agricultural production at farm, catchment and national scale. The work programme will develop and prioritise the adaptations that might overcome this vulnerability; for example through technological innovations to improve P use efficiency and reuse of secondary sources of P and the necessary institutional infrastructure to support these.